by Fae Holin, Managing Editor, Hay & Forage Grower

Dairy producers don’t expect to make money during this down market – they just don’t want to lose more of it, says Bill Sanchez, a technical services director with Diamond V Mills, Inc.

Yet feeding cows lower-quality, bare-bones rations may hurt their pocketbooks more than help them. Sanchez, who is based in Tigard, OR, urged hay growers, nutritionists and other forage industry experts to help dairymen find other ways to cut costs in a talk at the recent Four-State Dairy Nutrition and Management Conference in Dubuque, IA.

“A lot of our producers focused on short-term profits for survival and trimmed rations back,” he said. “They know that the cows are going to bear the brunt, but how are they going to get these cows back in shape? We have whole mineral programs being pulled out, so obviously they’re down on essential nutrients.”

“Who hasn’t changed their rations?” he asked the audience of dairymen, nutritionists, hay growers and forage specialists. “I certainly don’t always have the backbone to tell a dairyman with 10,000 cows who tells me he’s losing a million dollars a month to not change anything in the ration. The point is, we want him to lose less. Let’s not throw up our hands and take everything (in a ration) out.”

Sanchez said the loss of bovine somatotropin (BST) has changed how California dairymen have to manage and that the bad times won’t soon be over in the West. “I’m seeing a cycle now of these cows coming in overconditioned. We’re heading into heat stress and then our fall calving. We have overcrowding conditions in the West. Yet this is a really critical time to get cows in shape for when the milk price will really come up.

“Will it come up dramatically? Everyone I talk to says no, because we have too many heifers. But it will come up, and they will get some profits back. So let’s make sure these cows are in good shape to respond to that.”

Cows with healthy, well-balanced, consistent rations; fresh, clean water; clean, dry beds; adequate space to lie down and time to chew will obviously produce more milk, he said. “Let’s get back to the basics.”

At the same time, Western hay growers appear to have “great hay and abundant hay.” They’re not selling as much of it because the dairymen don’t have the money to buy it, Sanchez said.

For ways dairymen can survive a down milk market, watch for Hay & Forage Grower’s September issue focusing on dairy-forage nutrition.