Farmer focus: Feed software offers hope to US dairy business

Jessica McIsaac milks 350 pedigree Holsteins in Petaluma, California, with her husband Neil. They sell organic milk and also have 6,000 laying hens.

It seems as though, as a farming family, the only vacations we get are work related. Cow shows, Holstein conventions or training seminars: this is what we are used to and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

See also: Read more from the livestock farmer focus writers

This week my husband and I are off on a training course for new computer software we want to buy for our dairy. It is called EZ Feed and is a feed management tool.

Since we became organic, dairy feed management seems to have become an overwhelming task. I am accountable for all feed consumed by each animal group for each day of the year.

Data collection

Our nutritionist generates “feed sheets”, which are basically a spreadsheet for each pen of animals. We adjust for the number of animals in each pen and he formulates rations based on economics and the feeds available.

I then take each feed sheet and enter it into an Excel spreadsheet, giving each day a value and generating total consumption, pasture consumed and so on.

With nine to 11 groups of animals on any given day, it is very time consuming.

Our farm has used computerised record-keeping since the 1980s. With generations of herd data stored in Dairy Herd Improvement, it is likely we would choose compatible software to begin storing our feed date.

EZ Feeds demands accountability for feeders, nutritionist and managers as it captures all feed data and syncs the real-time information for analysis via graphs and charts. This will offer me more accurate feed information for organic reporting.

I will be able to account for feed, per pen, on a daily basis, analysing what the nutritionist rationed for versus what the feeder fed.

It is suggested that after six months we will see real improvements. Some look for improvements in milk. Being an organic herd I no longer push for pounds of milk but concentrate on our components and the economics of production. EZ Feed is a tool that will allow just that.

With feed purchases accounting for close to 55% of our expenses significant dollars can be lost to a poorly managed feed program.