By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PERRY, Ill. -- Poor-quality hay and rising commodity prices have beef producers looking at ways to pinch pennies when it comes to winter feeding.
One of the best suggestions is as close as a corn field.
"Cornstalks are almost the cheapest feed beef producers have right now," said Travis Meteer, University of Illinois Extension commercial agriculture educator based at the Orr Beef Research Center near Perry. Feeding cornstalks "is 30 to 60 cents per head per day. If you're looking at feeding cows in a dry lot, any ration is over $1.50 per day."
Winter feeding strategies was a featured topic Wednesday at the beef center's annual field day.
Area producers heard from speakers highlighting the center's research and demonstration programs and university research as well as current topics relevant to the beef cattle industry including ways to save money and maximize efficiency.
"This is a great opportunity for them to hear about what's going on and maybe some things to do this winter, this fall," Meteer said.
Higher commodity prices "drive general costs up. Even if you're not feeding corn, by-product feeds have almost doubled in price. Everything's higher," Meteer said. "If you compare your budget for this year to the budget you had last year, you might now find that won't work, no matter what strategy you have."
Tapping into the feed left from the corn harvest can help.
Grazing cornstalks works especially well for cows due to calve in the spring.
"It can fit a cow's requirements pretty good. You won't have to supplement a lot right at the start," Meteer said.
"Even if producers don't want to graze the stalks, baling the stalks is still an option. Cornstalk bales are not going to get a cow through winter, but they're definitely a forage source. If producers are willing to purchase distillers grains to feed along with cornstalks, they'll find it's a pretty economical ration that still meets cow requirements."
Wet, then dry, conditions during the growing season hampered hay producers.
"The big struggle early was too much rain to get the first crop out. The first crop was really mature, so it was poorer quality," Meteer said. "The hay crop that was poor quality to start off with is now suffering from a yield standpoint for lack of moisture."
To stretch the hay crop, Meteer said producers should look at limit feeding -- either using a feed wagon to grind hay for feed or putting crop panels around hay and letting cows in for a period of time.
"Cows, if allowed free access to a hay bale will eat all day. Once they're full, they'll stand around the hay feeder, mess around, slop some out," he said.
Drought conditions boosted hay prices to over $200 per ton in southern cattle-producing states.
"That will kind of trickle back to local markets, too," Meteer said. "There's just not much good hay around. If producers do have good hay, some might think about selling it with this high price."