Managing Feed Efficiency with a Click of a Button
The way farmers feed their cows has drastically changed over the decades. Half a century ago, weighing and fine-tuning feed ingredients was not yet a common practice on most operations. “A little of this and a few pounds of that,” written down on a clipboard was the extent of most farmers’ feed management software. Fast forward to today, however, and farmers now have the ability to access feed data with a single click of a button.
Grass Ridge Farm
Paul Lippert, co-owner of Grass Ridge Farm, LLC., in Pittsville, Wis., understands firsthand just how important feed technology is on to his century-old dairy operation. Lippert, who works alongside his brother, Carl, and father, Matt, milks 700 head of registered Holstein and Jersey cows and farms 1,600 acres of corn, alfalfa, soybeans and wheat.
After graduating with degrees in dairy and computer science, Lippert’s brother returned home to the farm for a brief while and developed his own feed technology software in 2016. This system allowed the farm to track basic feed information on an as-fed basis and manage purchased feed inventory.
While the free homemade feed software system was helpful, it didn’t quite fill all the farm’s needs. In 2021, the Lippert’s made the decision to invest in new feed technology and purchased the One Feed system from the Milc Group. This system would allow them to fine-tune their feeding practices, maximize their efficiency and ensure better feed consistency throughout their herd.
DIAL IN ON THE DETAILS
After a quick installation and spending some time training employees on how to use the new software, the Lippert’s were off and running with their new technology. Within a few days, the team had figured out the new system and started to notice improvements in their herd as time progressed.
“It was nice not having to pay for our old system, but the efficiency and consistency with our new system really paid off,” Lippert says. “Our components in both breeds improved, and feeding on a dry-
matter basis allowed us to be more precise with our ingredients. We were doing well with our old system, but we’re just able to go into more detail with the new one.”
Grass Ridge Farm
Feeding a consistent ration based off of daily dry matter has been a critical component to Grass Ridge Farm’s success. As the weather fluctuates, forage moisture samples are taken to ensure cows receive the correct amount of each feed ingredient. From there, the system is able to adjust other ingredients depending on daily moisture levels.
“Adjusting for dry matter and splitting batches have been two really important things for us,” Lippert says. “Those two things allow us to keep our feed consistent while also being efficient with our time. Our old software was as-fed based, so we constantly had to make dry-matter adjustments as the feed changed. This new system automatically does that for us, plus it allows me to split batches of feed between pens.”
Currently, Lippert has seven different lactating groups he is feeding off of three batches of feed. As pen numbers change, Lippert can adjust how much feed is split between batches instead of having to make a separate batch of feed altogether.
“Right now, one of the pen’s gets 60% of its feed from one batch, then the remaining 40% from another,” Lippert adds. “As long as I keep my pen numbers updated, the system will calculate the batches out automatically. It’s a big time saver for our feeders.”
MONITOR FEED COSTS
While a new feed system can’t make feed costs any cheaper, it does allow you to make better management decisions to help keep them in check. The Lippert’s have used their feed technology software to aid in corn silage planting decisions.
“The system helps me figure out just how much corn silage I go through in a year, so I’m able to plan ahead for next year,” Lippert says. “Of course, it’s only accurate if you keep your information up-to-date, but it gives me a lot more confidence when I head into the fields.”
According to Trent Dado, independent dairy nutritionist and management consultant with GPS Dairy Consulting, feed technology software should be viewed as a resource to help control one of the largest expenses on your dairy.
“Having feed technology is kind of like having accounting software to manage your finances and taxes,” Dado says. “You can scrape by without it, but it’s a lot easier and faster if you have it.”
For example, at Grass Ridge Farm, the Lippert’s can type ingredient costs into the One Feed system to get a feed cost per cow per day as well as a cost for each individual pen. When it comes to booking feed prices in the future, Lippert plugs in different prices to see just how much his costs might change.
“It definitely provides me with a lot more power when it comes to making purchasing decisions,” Lippert says.
While the thought of implementing new feed software onto one’s operation might seem like a daunting task, Dado says today’s technology keeps getting easier and easier.
“Basically, if you can run a tablet or run a smart phone, you can run a feed software system,” Dado says. “The hard part is trying to use the feed system to its fullest extent.”
Often times, farmers will primarily use feed software for mixing different rations. However, Dado says the data from feed software systems can be used for so much more.
“The hard part about feed software is getting the farmer to buy into using it to manage inventory or tracking dry-matter intakes more closely,” he says.
WORDS OF WISDOM
For those looking to implement new feed technology, Dado suggests involving the farm’s key stakeholders.
“It’s important to bring everyone into the conversation,” Dado says. “Talk with your nutritionist, feed employees and lender. It’s also good to talk with farmers who maybe have the same system you are interested in. Ask them their likes and dislikes as well as what advice they’d pass along.”
There’s no doubt investing in feed technology can be a large financial undertaking depending on the system; however, Lippert says don’t let the price tag scare you away.
“I don’t like spending money any more than the next guy, but don’t let a monthly fee keep you from making the right investment for your operation,” he says. “Whether you have 100 cows, 1,000 cows or 5,000 cows, you’re going to make up for that cost.”
Despite the tight margins that occur on a dairy farm, Dado says the benefits of feed technology software outweigh the initial upfront cost.
“It’s one of those pieces of technology that are almost required on dairies nowadays,” Dado says. “Without it, it’s like trying to manage your herd without herd management software. I don’t think you can over- emphasize its importance.”
September 2, 2022