Dairy Cattle Center

The cows milked at the Dairy Cattle Center on the UW-Madison campus are being sent to UW agricultural-research stations.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Dairy farmers may need a plan to offset production costs as demand for milk products drops due to COVID-19, say dairy specialist Stacey Hamilton and veterinarian Scott Poock of University of Missouri Extension.

Demand continues to plummet as key dairy customers such as schools and restaurants remain closed.

The National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association are working with the USDA to tackle the crisis. Their proposed voluntary reduction plan asks producers to trim 10% of production from April through September from their March 2020 baseline. The proposal also includes provisions to fill U.S. food banks with dairy products and reopen the Dairy Margin Coverage plan.

The plan could affect all types of dairies — large, small, low-input or confinement, Hamilton says in an Extension news release.

"Producers should pencil out what management practices may benefit them if a voluntary reduction plan is put in place," he says.

Hamilton and Poock recommend the following strategies for all dairies. Poock credits Chris Heins of Heins Family Farm for helping develop these strategies:

“Balance diets so cows do not gain or lose weight, unless they need body condition," says Poock. “If the cows are in good body condition, consider putting them on a field where rations and water sources are separated."

On their normal dry date, move them to the dry cow pen. This saves labor costs by milking fewer cows. It also means some loss of income.

Sell cows with low reproduction rates, high somatic cell count, etc. Consider drying off mid- to late-lactation DNBs (do not breeds) and put them on pasture or surplus feed if available.

“This may add some value when markets return,” says Hamilton.

Reduce feed costs and ask your nutritionist to adjust diets accordingly.

“You don't want to affect high producers as you will upset their peaks, but you might re-evaluate the medium-low diet,” Hamilton says.

Target milk solids versus volume. Within the Central Order, buyers pay producers based on components.

Consider feeding milk to all calves, heifers and bulls. This can reduce milk shipped and may add value to calves not needed as replacements later.

Milk less often. Move all or part of confinement herds that are milking three times daily to two times. This would decrease production 10-15%.

"If you do this for only part of the herd, we would suggest the mid- to late-lactation animals," says Poock. This also could ease labor shortages. For pasture-based herds, consider moving to once-a-day milking.

If pasture is available, pasture-based dairies may benefit from total grass feeding and elimination of supplement.