Posted by: Chris Maloney | August 29, 2011

Grass Vs. Corn: Grass A Better Value For Dairy Cows

Holstein dairy cows eating TMR (Total Mixed Ra...

Image via Wikipedia

In the great scheme of things, grass is a far better choice than corn for multiple reasons.  Corn prices and demand fluctuate with a variety of global factors, while grass is more likely to be available locally.

But for the struggling New England dairy farmer, it all comes down to cost.  So a study by UNH and UMaine that concludes:  “grass silage with commodities diets had the highest income over feed cost” really means that dairy farmers can maximize their profits while minimizing their environmental impact.

We need more studies in every area of conflict between environmental and business models.  In many cases, there should be no conflict because doing something greener can also mean doing something cheaper.

Here, for the dairy farmers among you (and those that love them), is the study on grass vs. corn silage.

J Dairy Sci. 2011 Jun;94(6):3184-201.

Maximizing profit on New England organic dairy farms: an economic comparison of 4 total mixed rations for organic Holsteins and Jerseys.


Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Hampshire, Durham 03824, USA.


The objective of these experiments was to compare 4 total mixed rations fed to USDA-certified organic dairy cows in New England. Forty-eight Jersey cows from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and 64 Holstein cows from the University of Maine (UMaine) were assigned to a 2 × 2 factorial arrangement of treatments testing the main effects of corn silage versus grass silage as the forage base and commodity concentrates versus a complete pelleted concentrate mixture. Treatment diets were fed as a total mixed ration for 8 wk during the winter and spring months of 2007, 2008, and 2009. Milk yield, component, and quality data were recorded and used to calculate the value of the milk produced for each cow. The dry matter intake (DMI) was recorded and used to calculate the average cost per cow per day of each diet. Income over feed costs were calculated for each diet using milk value and feed cost data. Feed cost and income over feed cost data were resampled using bootstrap methodology to examine potential patterns. Milk yield, milk fat and true protein concentrations, and SCC were similar among treatments. Cows at UNH fed corn silage tended to have higher DMI and lower milk urea nitrogen than did cows fed grass silage, whereas cows fed pellets had higher DMI than cows fed commodities. Cows at UNH fed commodities tended to have higher body condition scores than those fed pellets. Cows at UMaine fed commodities tended to have higher DMI than did cows fed pellets, and cows fed corn silage had lower milk urea nitrogen than did cows fed grass silage. Body weights and body condition scores were not different for cows at UMaine. Feed costs were significantly higher for corn silage diets and diets at UNH containing pellets, but not at UMaine. The calculated value of the milk and income over feed costs did not differ among treatments at either university. Bootstrap replications indicated that the corn silage with commodities diet generally had the highest feed cost at both UNH and UMaine, whereas grass silage diets containing commodities generally had the lowest cost. In contrast, the grass silage with commodities diets had the highest income over feed cost in the majority of the replications at both UNH and UMaine replications, whereas the corn silage with commodities diets had the lowest rank. Similar results were observed when forage prices were increased or decreased by 5, 10, and 25% above or below the actual feed price. Feeding a grass silage-based diet supplemented with commodity concentrates may have an economic advantage for dairy producers in New England operating under an organic system of production.

Copyright © 2011 American Dairy Science Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

PMID:  21605788

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