Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Valuing feed ingredients for dairy cows

Differentiate between costs and values to eke out a bargain as cereal prices shoot up again

Cereals are expensive this year and, while inclusion levels used last year were high, a greater blend of starch and digestible sources in compounds is needed this year
Cereals are expensive this year and, while inclusion levels used last year were high, a greater blend of starch and digestible sources in compounds is needed this year

Dr Siobhan Kavanagh

It is important to distinguish between the value of feedstuffs and their costs. The cost of a homegrown feedstuff includes land charge, fertiliser, contract charges, handling and storage, but the value of that feedstuff to the dairy farmer is determined by its price relative to the alternative energy and protein sources available, eg barley and soya or a balanced compound feed.

Relative Value of Feed ingredients

By taking the prices of barley and soya at any point in time, a value can be attributed to a unit of energy and a unit of protein, which is then used to value other energy and protein feeds (see Table 1, below left).

Teagasc has an interactive calculator called 'Relative Value of Feeds' on the Teagasc client site ( It is important that farmers complete this exercise at a local level because of the variation in ingredient price from one area to the next and the volatility in the market.

Cereals are expensive this year and, while the inclusion levels used last year were high, there will be a greater blend of starch and digestible sources used in compounds this year. Maize grain (flaked, ground or rolled) is expensive this year, with prices of €250-270/t being quoted. It is valued at 5-8pc higher than barley or wheat and is therefore poor value this year.

There are three basic options in terms of digestible fibre sources -- citrus pulp, beet pulp and soya hulls. Both unmolassed beet pulp and soya hulls have slightly higher PDIE (protein) content than citrus pulp. However, soya hulls is a moderate energy feed and, while it is reasonable value, its inclusion should be limited where a high-energy diet is required. It works well in ad-lib diets for finishing cattle.

Protein feeds are expensive, with soyabean meal at €360-380/t. Distillers grains represent the best value in terms of protein feeds this year but will require the addition of a second protein source for compound feeds with a 16pc crude protein or greater.

Relying on soya only as a protein source is adding significantly to the cost of a compound feed. Rapeseed meal is poor value as a protein feed this year and will not feature a lot in compound feeds.

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Relative Value of Forages / Wet Feed

While the value of alternative forages and wet feeds will track the price of dry ingredients in any given year, there is a limit to their value.

When cereal prices are high, the value of alternative forages will match or exceed their cost of production. But when cereal prices are low, the value of alternative forages will, at best, match the cost of production and, in many cases, be valued less than cost of production.

Table 2 (above) shows the maximum monetary value of maize silage, fodder beet and brewers grains, relative to a high energy (UFL = 0.95+) 18pc crude protein coarse ration at various concentrate prices, taking into account in-silo losses.

At a concentrate price of €270/t delivered, forage maize is worth a maximum €48/t delivered, while fodder beet is worth a maximum €38/t delivered.

Wet feeds and forages will incur significantly greater storage losses and handling costs than dried ingredients, and these costs have been built into these values. Buy forages on a cost per tonne basis, not per acre.

Ideally all trailers should be weighed -- but this is not practical. Therefore, weigh a representative number of trailers.

Dr Siobhan Kavanagh is a Teagasc nutrition specialist

Irish Independent