New tools available to help estimate dairy cow feed consumption and cost

Having access to a quick and easy method of evaluating dairy feed cost of production or dairy cattle consumption amounts specific to a particular herd can help dairy producers – and those who advise them – in planning or decision making purposes according to Ken Bolton, University of Wisconsin-Extension dairy/livestock agent.

“Constructing feed budgets for the heifer or lactating cow enterprise separately or for both combined can be particularly challenging,” Bolton noted. “Whether you are approaching decisions affecting cost of production or building enterprise or whole-farm analysis budgets for FINPACK, quick access to a simple but accurate approach to determining expected feed usage amounts and cost of production can help facilitate the process.”

The newly released five-sheet Excel program “Estimating Dairy Cow Feed Consumption and Cost” strives to address these issues. It is adapted from an Ohio State University bulletin but in interactive spreadsheet format to provide estimated cost and usage (intake plus waste) amounts specific to the annual milk production level of the herd in question.

Detailed instructions guide the user through the spreadsheets. The spreadsheet titled “Feed$Cow” allows a quick look at daily feed cost/hundred weight (cwt) of milk produced based on the mature cow herd (lactating and dry) for both default and user inputted feed values.  A similar approach is utilized on the “Feed$Heifer” spreadsheet to produce feed cost values for the raised replacement enterprise. Both of these spreadsheets are combined on the spreadsheet “Feed$Herd.”

Feed cost sensitivity tables for each of the three major feed cost categories; Forage, Corn and Soybean Meal (SBOM) are produced from both default and user defined input based on feed cost/cwt/day on each page. The Feed$Heifer sheet also generates feed cost sensitivity tables for individual animal cost/day as well as per cwt of milk produced by the mature cow herd.

The three spreadsheets can also be used to evaluate the level of price risk a producer may be assuming. For example, the producer knows the cost to produce or the market value of home grown forage and grain, but is debating whether or not to lock in a protein price. Based on known quantities and prices, the SBOM sensitivity table adjusts feed cost/cwt of milk produced from SBOM prices ranging from $220 to $450 per ton as well as automatically for the default value of the user’s reported SBOM price.

Additional prices may be substituted for those entered into existing cells or added by copying the formulas from the next to last cells down to expand each table. Contact the lead author for a password to unlock the sheet. From this range of values the user can effectively appraise the level of price risk they may be willing to assume.

Similar sensitivity ranges are produced in tabular format based on various prices for forage and corn. The user may also evaluate COP not only for their feed costs but also feed usage amounts compared to default values. Perhaps moving commodity feed storage from shed to bins or more closely managing weigh back amounts to reduce waste could be cost justified?

The “Feed$Budgets” spreadsheet guides users towards realistic feed usage levels for the lactating, replacement heifer and combined whole herd enterprises. Users constructing FINPACK livestock budgets can either input feed amounts provided by the dairy producer (on pages 2 and/or 3) to check on feasibility or use the program default values to guide the determination of feed usage levels. Output is based on the feeds and production level entered based on 3.5% butterfat milk for each enterprise. Page 4 calculated values for the whole-herd (mature cow plus raised replacements) are generated from pages 2 and 3 output values.

When working with FINLRB, once amounts fed are determined, it is fairly easy to confirm and justify reported crop yields, when not measured, as amounts harvested and purchased minus amounts fed and sold must balance with the FINLRB reported carryover inventory as compared to actual. When they don’t and ration usage, purchased feed and sold crop/feeds and inventory documentation exits, reported crop yields often need adjustment accordingly. Another common situation when crop yields are documented is the need to adjust estimated inventories and sometimes, amounts fed as feeding loss is often not known.

“Estimating Dairy Cow Feed Consumption and Cost” is available free of charge from the UW-Extension Center for Dairy Profitability’s “Decision Making Tools” webpage at Making Tools.htm and from the UW-Extension’s “Dairy Cattle Nutrition” webpage at

Contact your County Agent and access the Center for Dairy Profitability website at for more information on this and a variety of other farm management topics including decision making tools, papers and the AgFA dairy farm financial performance database of over 500 farm businesses.