September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

New computer tool calculates dairy cow value

WHITEHALL, Wis. - She's not the best milker, but she doesn't encounter many health problems. Meanwhile, another cow tries to fill the bulk tank all by herself, but has trouble staying well.
What is each of these cows worth?
That's a complicated question to answer. But a computer tool has been developed to make evaluating a cow's value much easier.
Victor Cabrera, a University of Wisconsin-Extension dairy management specialist, talked about the computer program at a recent dairy cattle reproduction meeting at Whitehall, Wis. His presentation was titled "The economic value of a dairy cow and its relationship to reproduction performance."
Why would a farmer want to know the value of a particular cow or all of his or her cows? The reason, according to Cabrera, is to help make better management decisions.
He noted that each farm has a certain "carrying capacity," or number of animals, it can sustain, unless it's in some sort of expansion mode. That means it only makes economic sense that a farmer would want to keep the most valuable animals.
The term "cow value," Cabrera said, refers to the "discounted future net return of a cow compared to a replacement."
Knowing a cow's value is important for making optimal management decisions. One management decision dairy farmers make quite often is whether to keep or cull an animal.

Information important
Many factors go into calculating a cow's value, Cabrera said. Among them are the value of a pregnancy, the cost of a lost pregnancy, and the cost that accrues each day a cow is open.
All those numbers are involved in making what Cabrera called "crucial decisions." These crucial decisions include whether or not to treat a sick cow, whether or not to breed a cow again, plus many others.
Other variables come into play when making decisions about individual cows. Two of the largest are the milk a cow is expected to produce during her current lactation and during future lactations, and compared to her herdmates.
Then there's the matter of replacement animals. What value is attached to the genetic gain that's expected by replacing an older cow with a younger one? A solid breeding program that produces quality replacements can make a farm's present cows less valuable.

Herd information
Information about the entire herd is also valuable. Cabrera mentioned the rolling herd average, the overall butterfat and protein content of the milk, and the 21-day pregnancy rate - the percentage of cows that become pregnant every three weeks.
Other herd information Cabrera deemed important includes the herd turnover ratio, or the percentage of animals leaving a herd. That ratio is linked to the involuntary culling rate, or the number of cows removed from a herd due to factors a farmer has no control over, such as a major health problem or death.
Cabrera mentioned several more pieces of information that are important when deciding a cow's value: The price of milk, the cost of feed, the cow's reproductive cost, her replacement cost, her salvage value, the value of her calf, and the interest rate on money.
Complicating matters even more is the fact that a cow's value changes over time. For example, when she becomes pregnant, it rises. If the pregnancy is lost, her value drops.
The value of an open cow decreases for a time, Cabrera said. If she remains open long enough, her value falls into negative territory.
Conversely, the value of a pregnant cow is naturally higher than that of an open one, all other things being equal. Her value rises as she gets closer to calving, because a farm has more time and money invested in her and her future calf.
Overall, said Cabrera, a cow's value generally rises into her third or fourth lactation. After that, it falls with each succeeding lactation, because the cow is older and more prone to health and reproductive problems.

Each farm different
Every farm is different, so to get accurate numbers from the cow value tool, producers will need to enter information from their own businesses. Among the information needed to get a single cow analysis is her present lactation, how long it's been since she calved, how long she's been pregnant, and the amount of milk she's expected to make this lactation and the next one.
The computer program needs several more numbers, too, to come up with a cow's value. But when the information is all entered, a dairy farmer will get not only the cow's value, but the value of her milk, the cost of her feed, and the value of her calf, plus nearly two dozen more bits of information.
This free computer tool can also provide cow values on a whole herd. Dairy farmers using this part of the tool will get a value ranking of all their cows.
To access the cow value tool, go to UW-Extension's dairy management website, at and then go to the "tools" header. Click on the "read more" button and then scroll down to "replacement." Then click on "The economic value of a dairy cow."[[In-content Ad]]


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