Missouri beef producers have it good when it comes to feed resources.
University of Missouri Extension nutritionist Eric Bailey says Missourians make top-notch hay and have access to many distillers' byproducts and alternative feeds.
"I want herd owners to think feeding systems. First they must think feed intake," Bailey said.
Owners must have some idea of what is enough. Also they need to know what is too much.
A 1,400-pound cow, for example, eats 36 pounds of feed per day. Multiply that by 30 for forage for a month, then extend that for a year. That's 12,960 pounds.
"Now think seven tons per cow for the year. Then allow for waste loss," Bailey said.
To put a frame on mineral mixes, do similar figures. Mineral bag labels state average consumption of four ounces per head per day. That's 91.25 pounds for a year, or two 50-pound bags of supplement.
"Start with getting feed intake right," Bailey said. "Get feed out in front of them. If you feed a cow only two pounds a day, it doesn't matter how good the ration. She'll lose body condition."
Bailey also wants producers to know feed costs. A cow pays for her feed with one calf per year.
"If you spend more than the price of one calf, you lose money," he said. "If a calf sells for $750, that's all you can spend for all cost of production that year."
After starting with the big picture, particularly on feed intake and cost, Bailey wants producers to refine a ration that can improve production while keeping expenses under control.
Pasture tech grant
A $440,000 grant to University of Missouri Extension will create a mobile application to help better manage forage.
The Conservation Innovation Grant, one of 33 nationwide, provides seed money to implement new ideas and techniques for conservation on private lands.
MU Extension specialist Stacey Hamilton said the goal of the three-year grant is to help farmers make better decisions about forage using affordable technology.
MU is a national leader in measuring the height and mass of forage in pastures using sonar technology on an all-terrain vehicle, Hamilton said. An onboard computer collects and sends the sensor data to the MU Grazing Wedge website, grazingwedge.missouri.edu, an online tool that translates the data into estimates of the amount of forage in pastures.
"The Grazing Wedge website helped forage managers for years but required a lot of time walking across pastures to take measurements and then manually enter the data on the website every week," said Ryan Lock, one of the researchers. "The innovation resides in linking the sensor, the smartphone and the website through the mobile app. This technology enhances labor efficiency and provides better opportunity to manage grazing systems and natural resources."
In the new PaddockTrac system, pastures on a farm are mapped using an MU website and saved to a secure account. Using sonar technology on an ATV, farmers measure the height of forage in their pastures, then the data are uploaded to the Grazing Wedge website.
"Before you can get back to your computer at home, the Grazing Wedge will have a report on how much grass you have in each paddock," Hamilton said.
That information allows farmers to decide where cattle should graze first and if there is extra forage to harvest as hay or silage.
MU Extension plans to recruit farmers starting in 2018 to pilot the system.