Feed costs can add up quickly and are a big part of total production costs. What if I told you there are several, easy ways to cut down those costs? Here are a few tips to lower your production costs this winter.
How much feed does a cow actually need to get through the winter? The answer is probably less than you would imagine. Mary Drewnoski, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension beef specialist, put together several tips to cut feed costs.
First, know cattle nutrition requirements. There are big differences in different points of gestation. The biggest difference is between mid and late gestation. During mid-gestation, cows need much less feed due to little calf growth. Oppositely, nutrition needs increase in late gestation and continue through early lactation. This is a crucial time period when it comes to quick rebreeding intervals.
Second, test your hay. You can guesstimate feeding value, but testing is very low cost and certainly worth the small investment.
Third, when you buy hay, choose well. The most accurate prediction of the highest quality hay is evaluating crude protein and total digestible nutrients. Nebraska has an online tool to help with this, the Feed Cost Cow-Q-Lator.
You can enter numbers for the hay you are considering, and it will give you the best value hay, not just the lowest cost hay.
Using Stalks in your Operation
Additionally, remember grazing corn stalks is enough. Although a simple practice, it remains one of the best ways to reduce winter feed costs.
“We did the research here in Nebraska for five years,” says Drewnoski. “Cows that got supplemental feed while they were grazing corn stalks and cows that didn’t get supplement performed the same for calving performance and rebreeding. They may need supplemental vitamins and minerals, but they can get all the protein and TDN they need.”
However, grazing is a keyword of this. Grazing allows them to be selective in what they are eating whereas baled stalks do not.
Although, baled stalks do make a good combination feed. A mixed ration of baled corn residue and distillers’ grains can make a very solid cow ration. This provides a low-cost option as well because distillers’ is a relatively inexpensive source of energy and protein.
Furthermore, if you bale corn stalks after harvest for cow feed, you can make significant additions to its protein and TDN by ammoniating it with anhydrous ammonia.
Cover the stalk bales with a tarp, then inject the gas to permeate the bales. Drewnoski says ammoniated corn stalks are about equal to good quality grass hay with this method. Crude protein can be bumped up to 9%, and TDN to 55%.
Drewnoski said this process costs about $25 and seems to be a highly palatable option.
Another tip is feeding less in confinement. If your cows are in confinement over the winter you can use less resources. Inactivity and less of a need to stay warm lowers energy needs and, therefore, less feed.
One of the biggest frustrations a producer can run into is feed waste. If you utilize a bunk, less feed will be wasted.
Cows fed dried distillers’ grains on the ground waste up to 40% of it. But in a bunk, it’s usually about 5% waste.
If you have the means to feed in a bunk, it will save a lot in terms of feed and input.
Additionally, you can double your hay usage and cut down on costs by utilizing a feeder. Without a feeder, hay simply becomes very expensive bedding. However, it is also important to choose the right feeder. Researchers at Michigan State University found cone style hay feeders had the smallest amount of dry matter waste at 3.5%. This was compared to ring feeders, cradle hay feeders and silage feeder type wagons.
Those researchers also developed several other tips for feeding cattle. First, provide enough distance between the outside of the feeder and the feed. Second, avoid bars or dividers between feeding stations. Next, provide a comfortable feeding height. Finally, use a hay saver panel.
In a related Ag Nook article titled, Hay Market Stakeout, regional differences in the hay market are examined.
In almost all cow-calf business records comparisons, the most profitable farms are the ones with the lowest costs per cow, Drewnoski summarizes. “Ask yourself, ‘Where are my competitive advantages?’ Then, make your system fit your resources. And don’t be afraid to try something new or different.”
Utilize these tips in your operation to cut down costs and maximize efficiency this winter.
Image courtesy of South East Farmer