The ugly, the bad, and the good
June 26, 2020
Bonnie Bargstedt, Key Account Manager, CHR Hansen
The Ugly… So far, 2020 has been a challenge. A virus turned the world upside down and, sadly, claimed many lives. Social unrest continues in society. Milk markets looked promising – only to come crashing down like a lead balloon. It’s been like crossing the street. Look both ways – twice. Then a piano drops out the window of a high rise apartment building and lands smack on top of you. That is 2020 in a nutshell.
The Bad…. The state of the economy, and especially the milk market and milk futures prices during March, April, and May, scared the heck out of everyone and it did indeed feel like pianos were going to start dropping from the sky.
As a partner in our 580 cow dairy, I got to work with our team of advisors to analyze every line of our budget. As milk prices declined and cooperatives were dumping loads of milk, many of us had to decrease production by 15%. Some dairies reduced heifer inventories. We dried cows off early and culled 60 marginal cows, as well as any who looked at us sideways. It was suggested that we decrease employee numbers as we reduced cow numbers. In states like New York, where employers are required to pay time and half for overtime, we opted to keep all employees, but maintain a 40 hour work week. Knowing that we have a great team, we explained the situation and they were glad to have their jobs and homes. Cow health protocols were scrutinized and fine-tuned. Our nutritionist was asked, yet again, to review the diet and look for more ways to cut costs.
While dairy farmers are looking at their balance sheets, check books, and stressed out bookkeepers, they cut costs, but hope they are not cutting too deep.
The Good… Currently, milk futures are rebounding and dairy farmers can finally have a more optimistic outlook. Remember those 60 cows we sold to reduce milk production? Well, we went from an 86 lb. average to a 95 lb. average. They are fed well, and are very comfortable! As this milk market rebounds, we will be glad to have kept a herd of healthy, normal cows.
Most areas have had good planting and growing conditions and we are into our second cutting for many of our forage crops. As you look at how to get the most out of your forages, now is not the time to take shortcuts in putting up quality forage. We all know a high quality inoculant is an investment in the future production of any dairy. Skipping an inoculant could leave you with poor quality feed in the coming year. This makes the job of a nutritionist even more challenging. Planning for the not-too-distant future, and using a leading inoculant like SILOSOLVE® FC, can help in preparing for next year’s feed. While our budget had some changes, we stuck with our long-running protocol and ordered our annual supply of SILOSOLVE® FC and SILOSOLVE® MC, and are pleased with both first and second cuttings. We know that as we feed this forage our decision to invest in inoculant will pay off.
Nutritionists can help producers maintain normal cattle with the use of a science-based, research proven and properly stabilized probiotic—such as BOVAMINE® Dairy Plus—especially with heat stress upon us. Having a healthy herd with minimal adverse health events lets employees focus on production. Cows that are sick, lame, open, off feed, down in milk, need treatment and unexpected deaths all detract from other daily tasks. Keeping the herd normal results in improved efficiency for the dairy. While a change in output may not be noticeable, it will be achieved with less input. Improved feed efficiency is the main goal, but the following are also expected:
less money spent on treatments and losses due to discarded milk
fewer dead cows that result in more cash flow from milk or cull cow sales
lower cull rates which translates into needing fewer replacements and a more mature herd that milks better
higher pregnancy rates that eventually translate into lower days in milk and higher production
These are all things that can improve when cows have a more diverse microbiome and a healthier digestive tract. Normal, healthy cows make successful and profitable dairy farms.