Making the right feed choices during COVID-19

For most farmers it is still business as usual, but it can happen that certain feed ingredients might not be available in the coming months, due to logics problems related to COVID-19. Some farmers might turn to other or more feed ingredients that suddenly become available. Monitor your feed choices with Ida.

According to a recent article on, the COVID-19 pandemic has set off a global oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that drove world oil prices into the ground. Given that 41% to 44% of the US corn crop is used for ethanol production, the distilling industry has also become unsustainable and is being forced into near shutdown.

The by-product of ethanol (DDGS) is used often in the US as valuable feed ingredient, but limited available already. Also some by-products from the beer industry are used in animal rations. When breweries decide to stop producing beer, the supply of brewers grains will stop as well. An alternative is to feed inexpensive corn, and protein meals.

Increasing forage in the ration

Also some producers in the US consider changing the diet to reduce the milk output (milk that cannot be sold or picked up). In the article on, Cornell University experts recommend that nutrition alterations begin with working with a nutritionist to ensure all nutrients outside of energy are balanced according to energy allowable milk. As such, a logical option is to raise the amount of forage in the diet if forage inventories and neutral detergent values (NDF) allow. The Cornell nutrition experts recommend optimizing NDF intake at 1.2% of cow body weight.

Switching an animal’s diet couldn’t come at a worse time as the cattle market continues to fall apart. “The futures prices are well below where they were prior to COVID-19, and they weren’t good at that point, either,” John Robinson, vice president of membership and communications for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says to Successful Farming. And it’s not just distillers’ grains being replaced. “Even with low corn prices right now, you’re also replacing or adding other feed costs that may be higher priced because producers are having to reformulate a ration,” Robinson says.

Keeping track of rations 

Changes in feed ration can turn out great and replacing certain ingredients with others should not be a problem. However, it is wise to monitor if a new type of raw material or by-product not impacts cow and overall herd performance in a negative way. Ask Ida to help you! Ask Ida is a feature in the Ida app helps to understand the impact of operational changes in e.g. bedding, diet or medical treatment. You can check how rumination or eating behavior changes when you make a change. In uncertain times where the ration might change more often than usual, the Ask Ida feature can help farmers to make the right choices. So how does it work?

Step 1: The moment the feed formulation has changed, put the start date and end date in. (for example 1 or 2 weeks). Ask Ida and select what you like to monitor (effect on eating time or rumination time for example).

Step 2: Keep feeding the cows the new diet. Ask Ida will notify you when the results are ready!

Step 3: Look at the simple graphs with the results and discuss these with your feed advisor for example. Did rumination time dropped for example when you added a new by-product? A drop in rumination time can also mean losses in milk production. Adjust the ration when needed.

Feed data to discuss with the nutritionist

Scott Maclean is a Canadian farmer and Ida user. He is happy with the Ask Ida feature and has made it part of his management. “I use Ask Ida quite often and I have around 6-7 questions saved that I use on a regular basis. “I recently added fresh corn silage to the ration. Ida tells me that rumination went up and feed efficiency stayed the same. This information is also great to share with the feed advisor and to have a discussion about it and to make sure the feed choices I made are the right ones”, Scott says.

Animal feed is an essential good

Keeping track of cow health and performance is crucial, especially in times when certain feed ingredients are not available anymore or getting more expensive. Compromising on feed (quality) is a risky business, as it can negatively impact your herd performance. Fefac, representing the European feed industry is fully committed, to fulfil their core mission. That is: providing Europe’s farm animals and farmed fish with the adequate nutrition to ensure safe and high-quality foodstuffs of animal origin, during these times of crises. Fefac welcomed the decision that feed is classified as an essential good by the EU.

The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) published an open letter, stating that some state governments are considering closing “non-essential” businesses as a way to prevent the further spread of coronavirus. “While we understand and appreciate the efforts to slow this pandemic, we also must recognize that animals must continue to have access to food. Therefore, our industry must be able to manufacture, transport and sell ingredients, feed and pet food and should stay in business”.

The Dutch website Nieuwe Oogst reports that the Dutch feed manufacturers have their inventory of raw materials under control. The Dutch association for the feed industry (Nevedi) addresses that in some countries such as Italy and Spain, there are some problems with the raw materials supply and keeping feed mills running. There are however, some issues in relation to feed ingredients such as amino acids and vitamins, along with some active ingredients for crop protection products from China. This is all due to uncertainty of supply out of China, the main supplier of these ingredients. These uncertainties are mainly resulting in increased price volatility of these ingredients, according to Rabobank. 

We’re in this together, and we’re here to help and keep your operations stable and productive. Ida is here to assist the farmers and keep cows healthy and productive. 

About Ida

Ida is  the first digital assistant for the dairy farmer, based on sensor technology, cloud computing and machine learning. Ida translates unique data on cow behavior into accurate and actionable insights. By doing so, we make farming more efficient and increase animal health and performance. The technology has been developed by Connecterra and is available in 16 countries, including the US and Canada. Ask for a free demo here.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Emmy Koeleman
Global Market Communications Manager at Connecterra