Education and decision support strategy for farm-level economic and environmental assessment of dairy Best Management Practices
An initial inventory of potential feed management practices was developed and analyzed to determine subset of practices that looked promising with respect to 1) improvement of herd and enterprise economic performance, 2) environmental performance of feed program, and 3) observability of intensity of adoption. Dairy producers were queried on the same issue to identify their cognizance and perspectives on opportunities and challenges with respect to feed management practices. Results of these efforts are being incorporated in cash flow management tools. At the farm- and herd level, a small set of producers were engaged to contribute data to the project with respect actual effects of feed management practices. Herd and cow specific data were collected to measure actual effects of change in practice including milk quality, urine and fecal characteristics, water and feed uptake, and total mixed ration (TMR) uptake. Data analysis of the results will identify relationships between practices and performance change based on these case studies.
- Work with a minimum of 50 dairy producers that have completed a 2013 projected cash flow plan with the Extension Dairy Team to acquire their actual numbers (income and expenses). Met with producers in December 2013/January 2014. At that time asked four questions to determine level of implementation of four feed management practices linked to economic and environmental performance. The goal is to assess how feed management practices may influence cost of production, milk yield, and environmental implications such as excess nitrogen.
- Focus on the feed management practice related to forage quality, specifically corn silage and the impact on precision feeding and milk urea nitrogen (MUN). Farms that have participated in the cash flow workshops will be the key participants.
- Measure actual effects of changes in feed management on cow level environmental and economic performance.
- Revised Cash Flow plan collection model to include collection mechanism for feed management practices, including (Obj. 1):
- Analysis of Home grown feeds in ration (based on Cash flow ration entry)
- Management practices for enisled forages to maximize digestibility
- Adoption rate of monitoring mechanisms for lactating cow rations.
- Adoption rate for monitoring feed moistures.
- Six month somatic cell count average.
- Twelve month pregnancy rate average.
- Training in-service for use of the revised Cash Flow collection tool and Project objectives (Obj. 1)
- Trained four departmental staff and six extension educators on proper application and use of the collection tool.
- Trained participants on support tools that assist in the cash flow decision process (specifically calculation of heifer costs and inventories, cropping strategies and estimation of costs).
- Identified 50 farms that were interested in the full feed management/cash flow program (Obj. 2)
- Recruited nutritionists and industry professionals to identify producers and assist with sampling process. Three different individuals agreed to participate.
- Recruited extension staff and educators to identify producers and assist with sampling process. Eight individuals agreed to participate.
- Six workshops were scheduled for 2014 Cash flow analysis with participants (Obj. 1)
- Samples collected on identified dairy operations (Obj. 3)
- As of January 21, 2014, 39 out of the 50 farms are completed. Corn silage was analyzed for its nutrient content, manure for fecal starch and bulk tank milk for MUN levels.
- Samples were evaluated for initial trends and commonalities. The following initial common themes were identified:
i. Growing zone trend with percent starch in corn silage and average milk lbs per milking cows. Northern zones exhibited 5% less starch as a percent of dry matter compared to the southern zones. Northern zones also exhibited an average of 10 lbs less milk per milking cow. This could be related to forage quality, hybrid selection and/or ration formulation.
ii. Pennsylvania Soil Regions trend with percent starch in corn silage and average milk lbs per milking cows. Northern regions exhibited 5-8% lower starch levels in analyzed corn silage than central/southern regions. Milk lbs per milking cows were 10 lbs lower in northern regions as compared to other regions. This could be related to forage quality, hybrid selection and/or ration formulation.
- Additional records are needed to evaluate MUN and milk production trends.
- Identified the need to capture hybrid selection and ration information during cash flow workshops
- Identified the need to capture herd production data to pair with sample results.
- Barn sampling to determine relationships between feed management practices. (Obj 3) Fifteen farms participated; nine in Mifflin County and six in Lancaster County, PA. There were two sampling phases. Phase one consisted of collecting background information and samples, including total mixed ration (TMR), forage, milk, urine, fecal, and water samples, from each farm. Between phase one and phase two, producers were asked to implement a set of best management practices (BMP) that would have a positive impact on farm sustainability. For example, reducing the amount of phosphorous or crude protein fed in the diet to reduce the amount of phosphorus or nitrogen excreted in manure. After making the selected changes, the team took follow up samples for phase two. Phase one and phase two are being compared to analyze the on-farm effect of implementing the respective BMP on each farm.
Each phase consisted of four sets of samples taken over a six-week period. At each farm, TMR, forage, milk, urine, fecal, and water samples were collected by the project team. Each participating producer was asked to track feed intakes, milk production, and income over feed cost, and reproduction records for the study periods. After samples were collected, they were analyzed for the following:
TMR : Wet chemistry analysis at Cumberland Valley Analytical Services in Hagerstown, MD.
Starch content (in lab)
Forages: NIR analysis at Cumberland Valley Analytical Services in Hagerstown, MD.
Milk: Fat, protein, MUN, SCC, lactose, total solids, other solids at Dairy One in State College, PA.
Urine: Nitrogen (in lab), Urea-nitrogen (in lab)
Feces: Nitrogen (in lab), Starch (in lab),
Water: Tested using the Basic Livestock Water Package at the Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory in State College, PA.
All analyses have been completed. Data is currently being compiled and evaluated to draw appropriate conclusions. Comprehensive reports are being prepared and will be sent to the participating farmers.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
1) Project concept was introduced to producers including feed management potential for simultaneous management of economic and environmental performance.
2) Producers learned how cash flow accounting can be used to track effects of best management practices targeted for joint management of economic and environmental performance.
Cooperative Extension Associate
Penn State University
349 ASI Building
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 7172704391