CROP UPDATE: Ideas for reducing cattle feed cost

Posted: Nov. 20, 2012 3:36 pm Updated: Dec. 19, 2012 7:16 pm


We recently held a couple of programs targeting beef producers to help reduce their feed cost. I thought I'd share some of the ideas that Monte Rowland with Ursa Co-op and Travis Meteer with the University of Illinois Extension presented.

We all know how severely affected area pastures were this summer. They were grazed excessively because of the dry conditions. Unfortunately, anytime that the grass is grazed into the ground, the plant takes much longer to regrow because the "photosynthesis factory" is missing. The plant has to regrow from stored root reserves, and that can severely reduce the vigor of the plant, which can cause the plant to delay regrowth by a couple of weeks. So the last thing you really want to do is to graze into the ground. Leave 3 to 4 inches of growth to ensure rapid recovery. Consider feeding hay or grazing stalks, or moving the cattle into a sacrifice pasture that you'll be overseeding with clover next spring.

We've got 150 days or so before spring grazing, and if your pastures were grazed into the ground, you can add 20 more days to that. Determine your feed needs. How much silage did you chop? How many bales of hay do you have? I've seen a few hayfields baled recently, and if you have a way to preserve that hay (wrap it or place in silo) if it won't dry effectively, why not harvest it? Dormancy is very close at hand, so you've got little to lose by baling now.

Of course, the more effective strategy would be to graze it if possible. You'll save some cost. An even more efficient strategy is to strip graze. Again, don't graze down to the ground unless you're planning on overseeding that field next spring.

Have you tested your corn silage yet for nitrates? If you're feeding silage, here are a couple of thoughts for you to consider. Supplemental protein and minerals will need to be fed with some classes of animals. Use co-products, urea, liquid feeds or a commercial supplement. There can be a difference in cost among these protein sources and some limitations.

If you're grazing any fall-seeded crops (rye, turnip, radish, oats) be sure you've got a good source of high fiber that the cattle can feed on. You need to slow down this high-moisture, high-protein feed source so the cattle can fully use it. Cornstalks or poor quality hay can provide that source.

A study on limit-feeding cows found a savings of 10 percent feed. However, you'll need to use good quality hay for this to be effective. So if you normally use 100 bales of hay in a winter, you could get by with only 90 by limit-feeding. Saving 10 bales of hay could result in a savings of $750.