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

Producer panel discusses feed strategies

By by heidi deGier- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

CALMAR, Iowa - Bill Rowekamp feeds his herd of 270 dairy cows for no waste. He has also cut back on some feed ingredients and taken advantage of available specialty feeds to reduce feed costs as milk prices have plummeted and the economy continues in a downturn.

Rowekamp of Rowekamp Farms, Lewiston, Minn., was on a producer panel that was part of the Midwest Dairy Nutrition and Feeding School held March 3 at the Northeast Iowa Dairy Foundation's Dairy Center near Calmar, Iowa. Other panel members included Jason Decker, Top Deck Holsteins, Westgate, Iowa and Mike Whittle, Whittle Farms LLC, Volga, Iowa. Dave Lawstuen, Dairy Science instructor at Northeast Iowa Community College and chair of Dairy Operations served as moderator.

Rowekamp added a barn last fall and hopes to expand to 320 cows by April. Rowekamp and his wife along with eight full-time employees operate the farm. They have 600 acres and grow all of the forages for the dairy. The farm has been in the family for three generations. Rowekamp's two daughters have gone on to other careers and he is looking to transition the farm into someone else's hands.

Decker farms with his parents and two brothers. They milk 600 cows and operate 1,500 to 1,600 acres of land. Their labor force includes seven or eight full-time employees plus part-time help.

Whittle and his family milk 500 cows. They expanded to 360 cows in 1998 and in 2000 they went up to 500. The operation includes Whittle and his wife, his parents, a brother and a sister and brother-in-law. They have eight full-time employees and farm around 2,000 acres. They also have a herd of beef cows.

All three panelists milk their herds three times a day. Rowekamp's herd averages 95 pounds per day while Whittle's has an average of 88 pounds and Decker's herd is at 80 pounds per day.

When asked about adjusting from the high milk prices and input costs of 2008 to the low milk prices now, each panelist related what they were doing to keep their dairies viable.

"We're looking at getting haylage more digestible," Whittle said. "We went to sand in October and we're looking at staying on BST (Bovine Somatotropin) as long as possible. We're watching our finances closely."

"We're concentrating on cash flow in the short term," Decker said. "For the long term, we're prioritizing our wish lists. We all want things done in certain areas. We're looking at what's the most important and what's going to help us out in the short term and what's going to keep everyone happy."

"We built a new freestall barn," Rowekamp said. "I don't think the farm would have had the resale value. My personality is that I like to be challenged. As far as economics, there's always a silver lining in these dark clouds. We can learn a lesson in these times that I can get milk production from a simple ration. Keep the line of communication open with lenders and feed vendors. They want to hear from you."

Rowekamp said that he made adjustments in his premix by taking out some of the megalac, yeast and a few other ingredients to save quite a bit of money.

"The other thing we did is our co-op was sitting on a bunch of lactose," he said. "They wanted to get rid of it so we're putting in about one and three-quarters pounds of powdered lactose and we're getting that for a nickel."

Rowekamp added that he used to feed a lot of hominy to keep starch levels up but since putting in high moisture corn bunker storage he has been able to eliminate the hominy.

Whittle said that he fine-tuned their protein mixes to help reduce costs. He also cut back on cottonseed and gluten.

Decker feeds quite a bit of corn and corn silage at his farm.

"We haven't changed a whole lot," Decker said. "We backed off on cottonseed a little bit. The cows have been plugging away pretty good. I don't like making a lot of changes."

Whittle said that a feed saver on their farm is feeding the leftover feed from the dairy herd to heifers that are in the 500- to 700-pound range.

At Rowekamp's dairy farm, the feed bunks are monitored closely and they have a very good employee to run the feeding program. The older cows are fed three times a day while the two-year-olds are fed twice a day.

"Feeding for no waste takes a good person," Rowekamp said.

Rowekamp keeps feedings at his dairy very consistent and he always wants the cows to come back to fresh feed after being milked. He praised an employee of 10 years that does 95 percent of the feeding for carrying out the feeding program.

Whittle said that either he or a brother uses a pushup blade to push the feed up six times a day.

Decker handles a majority of the feeding on his dairy and his brother takes care of the feeding program when he's not there.

Each of the panelists watches their herd closely for changes.

"We get a readout once a week to show to our feed consultant and make sure that butterfat and protein are in line," Decker said. "I talk back-and-forth with my brother on reproduction."

Whittle said that he watches refusals. At Whittle Dairy Farm, MUN (Milk Urea Nitrogen) and butterfat are reviewed once a week. Production is checked every day on the milking groups, 15 and under days fresh, 30, 60, 90 and 120 days.

Rowekamp monitors milk pounds closely. He looks at butterfat, MUN and how the fresh cows are cleaning up. The herd manager walks the pens twice daily.

"Those are most of the indicators we use in making ration changes," Rowekamp said. "We haven't seen a drop in production. Our reproduction has held steady with a 22 percent pregnancy rate. We haven't seen anything detrimental."[[In-content Ad]]


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