Reducing starch carries some cautions, however. You need to watch the cows when feeding low-starch diets. Most of the research conducted with low-starch diets has been short term (less than eight weeks) and focused on midlactation cows. The long-term effect of feeding low-starch diets to cows in all stages of lactation is unknown. Therefore, when implementing low-starch diets on an entire herd basis, the nutritionist and dairy producer should watch for signs that may indicate the dietary starch content is too low.

Signs include decreased milk production, milk protein content and yield, and body condition and weight; increased milk urea nitrogen; and stiffer manure. In addition to watching the cows, feed ingredients should be monitored for changes in neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and starch digestibility. Providing the proper amounts of ruminal-fermentable carbohydrates is critical to optimizing ruminal fermentation and generating volatile fatty acids and microbial protein for energy and amino acid for the cow to use.

Recently, suggested strategies for formulating lactating cow diets when corn prices are high include using more high-quality forage and byproduct feeds to provide highly digestible NDF and nonfiber carbohydrates. Dietary starch content between 18 percent and 21 percent appears to be acceptable when high-quality forages are fed and the dietary starch is highly fermentable in the rumen.

The price for corn grain as a livestock feed has increased substantially during the past two years. Consequently, lower-starch feeding strategies that minimize the amount of corn may be more profitable than higher-starch diets, particularly if lactation performance and ruminal fermentation are not compromised.

So, work with your nutritionist because no two situations are exactly alike. However, one recommendation remains unchanged: Don’t give up milk. Milk price is the driving force for margins, more so than feed cost. While we recoil from the current high feed prices, this is no time to skimp on rations. Considering recent milk price hikes, any loss of milk production would result in lower net income.

I don’t know what the future will bring. This nervousness about the market has prompted many clients to hedge some of their milk and lock in a margin. Considering the volatility in the market, this is a wise consideration. The effect of the catastrophe in Japan on our market has yet to be determined.

The good news is that the world demand for dairy products continues to increase. Exports of U.S. dairy products accounted for 12.8 percent of the total U.S. milk production last year. I hope the export market will stay ahead of domestic production to continue to supply the robust demand.