What is the largest cost category for producing milk? Well, it’s the feed of course! A simple web search will identify multiple sources that put feed cost at roughly 40-60% of total production. I know that is not very scientific, but if we can trust anything it is that the internet will always give us lots of answers! My point is that feed is the largest single cost in milk production. We are all aware of that fact. So, what are we doing to manage that cost? How do we even try to keep track of it all? Accounting programs? Spreadsheets? Scraps of paper? Some combination of those things? Sometimes we overlook our most valuable tools because we forget to look past the simple tasks that they help us with each day. Feed management programs are excellent tools, that are more than feed sheet generators. With a little effort and some courage, these programs could be put to work for more than making loads.
Most dairy farms use a feeding software program to manage feed mixing and delivery. In general, these types of programs are a financial and time investment. Once the program is up and running, you still must learn how to use it. But are we? I have noticed that in many feeding software backups that I review, there are whole sections of the program that are under utilized or not used at all. Some of these areas include inventory management, weighbacks, target dry matter adjustments, ingredient DM changes, and reports. If you aren’t using these aspects of your feeding program, your first response may be that the information is kept track of in a spreadsheet or written in a notebook. But have you considered that the feeding software program is specifically designed to record and track and cross reference data across the platform? Meaning, that when you need to look at the data, if it is entered in the program you won’t need to try to blend sheets of paper or multiple files together to generate a summary. So, the time you don’t have now to learn how to use the program or input data is simply being used to marry different sources of data together later.
A few years ago, we took a survey of GPS clients that used a feeding software program. Of the dairy operations surveyed, approximately 20% did not enter weighback data at all, while only 65% entered the data 5-7 days per week. Additionally, around 10% never looked at feeder loading deviations and < 30% looked at deviations daily or weekly. Actual feed usage was reviewed weekly to monthly for about 75%, but 10% never reviewed this data at all. Roughly 35% updated feed costs in the program at least weekly or monthly, while only 35% calculated shrink on forages. Though not part of the survey, from personal observations, I estimate that in the backups I have reviewed, less than 25% are managing feed inventory in the program. Of those, very few are entering routine physical feed inventories.
What is holding producers back from fully utilizing the different aspects of their feeding programs? Time? Technical know-how? Confidence in the software? Making it a priority?? How do you make sure the feeding program is doing its fair share of the workload? Perhaps one person is needed to manage and oversee the program. Making the feeding software a priority could go a long way in managing your feed dollars and fully utilizing the program.
If you don’t currently have a feeding software program, where do you start? Understanding that while there are multiple feeding software programs available, they may not all be a great fit for your operation. Take time to investigate. Talk to other dairy operations and get their feedback on their program. Use conferences or other meetings as opportunities to get input from others. Ask you nutritionist or other industry professional for help. Find out what it will cost to start up and over the long term. Over the years of working with the various feeding programs I have come to the opinion that there is not one program to fit all. Each program has its pros and cons. Overall, the best program for you is the one that you will use.