Nutrition Plus Blog

How to Feed Less and Maintain Milk Production

Dairy cows in a field at sunset

The Skinny


Precision Feed Management (PFM) can increase profitability and sustainability on your dairy. Benefits include:

  • Less feed while maintaining milk production
  • Less nitrogen and phosphorus excretion
  • Lower cost of feed inputs
  • Improved nutrient efficiency
  • Improved bottom line
Pro Tip: Focus on feeding quality bypass protein, like SoyPlus, instead of feeding more total protein.

Example Impacts of PFM
*Most significant results seen across four studies. See details in full article below.

Decrease crude protein 4.5%

Phosphorus decreased 28%

Nitrogen decreased 29%

Average income over total feed costs $147/cow/year

Average over purchased feed costs $158/cow/year

Total milk shipped per day increased 45%

Daily feed costs decreased 34%


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The Details

Feeding less protein while maintaining milk production is one of the many benefits of implementing Precision Feed Management (PFM). Other benefits include less nitrogen and phosphorus excretion, a decrease of purchased feeds, improved efficiency of nutrient use and even improved profitability.

According to Larry Chase, professor emeritus of dairy nutrition at Cornell University, PFM is “the continual process of providing adequate, but not excess, nutrients to the animal and deriving a majority of nutrients from homegrown feeds through the integration of feeding and forage management for the purpose of maintaining environmental and economic sustainability.”

What is the potential impact? Chase uses the example of a lactating dairy cow that weighs 1,450 lbs, produces 70 lbs of milk per day and consumes 47 lbs of dry matter per day. If the percent of crude protein in her ration is reduced by one unit, it cuts the amount of nitrogen she excretes by 27.5 lbs/year. If the ration phosphorus is reduced by 0.05% the result is 8.5 lbs less phosphorus excreted by the cow each year, he explains.

Multiply these results by 1,000 cows and the difference becomes 27,500 lbs less nitrogen and 8,500 lbs less phosphorus excreted as waste. Given the increasing pressure animal agriculture faces about environmental concerns and regulations, reducing the amount of nutrients excreted as waste while maintaining or growing milk production is a win-win.

The Results

The PFM Working Group has conducted multiple projects with commercial dairies of all sizes to understand how best to implement PFM, measure results and demonstrate its benefits.

  • Cerosaletti (2012) report to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
    The report included results for 34 herds enrolled in the PFM program between 2008 and 2011 in Delaware County, N.Y. These herds decreased purchased grain by about 2 lbs/cow/day and increased forage in the ration from 59 to 65.4%. The amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in manure decreased by 18.6% and 9.8% respectively. In addition, milk income over purchased feed cost increased by 50 cents/cow/day.

  • Cerosaletti and Dewing (2017) report to the NYC Watershed Agricultural Program
    This study showed that by implementing PFM eight dairies were able to decrease phosphorus and nitrogen in manure by 23% and 7% respectively, and milk income over purchased feed cost increased by 46 cents/cow/day. In this eight-month study by Higgs et al., (2012) two western New York dairies lowered ration crude protein by 1.7 units, decreased milk urea nitrogen by 2 mg/dl and maintained milk production. The amount of nitrogen excreted in manure decreased by 6% on one dairy and 17.8% on the other dairy. Total daily feed cost at the two dairies decreased by 21 and 72 cents/cow/day, and income over purchased feed cost increased by $0.27 and $1.27 dollars/cow/day.

  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
    In a three-year study, eight dairies reduced the amount of crude protein in the cow diets and decreased the amount of nitrogen excreted in manure. Reduction in crude protein ranged from 0.7 to 4.5%, and the decrease in nitrogen in manure ranged from 5.2 to 29%. All dairies saw an increase in income over feed cost. The average income over total feed cost was $147/cow/year, and the average income over purchased feed cost was $158/cow/year.

  • The Professional Animal Scientist (Tylutki et al., 2004)
    A five-year trial on a 500-cow commercial dairy incorporated changes in the ration, feed management procedures, forage production and forage storage to meet the goals of the PFM program. During that time, total animal numbers increased by 23%, total milk shipped per day increased by 45%, daily feed cost decreased by 34% and the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen excreted in manure decreased by 28% and 17%, respectively.

Success Defined

The PFM Working Group developed benchmarks to evaluate dairies at the beginning of a project and to track their progress toward goals. These benchmarks are the foundation used to build precision feed management programs on dairies.

New York PFM Benchmarks

Benchmark Goal
Forage NDF intake, % of BW ≥0.9
Forage DM, % of total ration DM ≥60
Homegrown feed, % of total ration DM ≥60
Ration P, % of NRC requirement <110
Ration CP, % <16.5
Milk urea nitrogen, mg/dl 8-12
Cows dead or culled <60 days in milk, % <8

The results from these studies, and from on farm use, consistently demonstrate that implementing PFM practices yields positive results. The dairies purchase less feed and therefore import less phosphorus and nitrogen, see improved nutrient efficiency, maintain or increase milk production and reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus excreted into the environment. Combined, these factors can help improve dairy profitability and sustainability.


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The above article was originally published in an earlier issue of the Dairy Nutrition Plus newsletter; find it here.

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