Consultant offers beef producers ideas for saving money on feeding
With feed costs higher these days, finding ways to more efficiently feed beef cattle is increasingly important.
Some ideas worth considering include reducing hay waste, feeding more crop residue and weighing and sorting cattle.
That was the advice from Chad Zehnder, a beef specialist with Land O'Lakes Purina Feeds speaking to members of the Wisconsin Cattlemen's Association during their annual winter conference in Wisconsin Dells recently.
"Forage has been abundant all your lives," he told his audience, "but that isn't the case anymore."
In addition to hay, dairy producers are increasingly using straw in their rations and perhaps will soon add things like corn stalks to some dairy feeds.
That increased pressure on the available feedstuffs will force beef producers to re-think how they feed their cattle, he added.
Many studies have shown that hay can be used more efficiently if certain practices are followed.
Placing hay rings on round bales can be one way to save a considerable amount of hay, he said. Others include unrolling a round bale on the ground to produce a long strand of hay for the cattle to eat.
Another idea to save hay is to feed what the cattle need more often, rather than putting out hay every six or seven days. One study he cited showed that 7 percent of a round bale could be saved by using a feeder ring with a skirt on it.
"Though investing in iron requires getting a return, there are some opportunities in very simple ideas."
With cow/calf production as with any kind of animal, there is a biological priority for nutrients. Maintenance comes first - then growth, lactation and reproduction, which is the last thing a cow will do if she's not fed properly, he explained.
Zehnder said farmers need to know the body condition score (BCS) of their cattle, but he admitted Wisconsin growers generally "take very good care" of their cows and probably have scores in the upper range - indicating cows with some fat on their bodies.
Keeping these condition scores high is also known to help the calves being carried by the cows, especially in first-calf heifers. Scores in the higher range can help with calf immunity as well as the calf's size and health, he said.
There is some data to support the idea that it's important to put weight on cows before they calve, as late gestation is very important to the calf's size.
"Do not try to starve birth weight out of your cows."
Forage analysis important
Cattle should be supplemented based on forage analysis and based on the cows' requirements. Using those management techniques could be a way to save money.
Things worth spending money on include mineral supplements, forage analysis, pregnancy testing, implants and ionophores, he said.
In this era of high feed prices, a high-energy cow diet should include Rumensin ®, the only coccidiostat and ionophore approved for cows. It reduces feed intake for cows by 10 percent by improving efficiency and allows producers to cut their feed costs, he said.
Another area to look at closely for profitability is reproduction. Every heat cycle of the cow is worth about 60 to 80 pounds of production on their future calf so it's important to maximize the number of cows that will get pregnant to the first heat cycle.
A commercial cow that misses a calving cycle will never pay for herself, he said.
Trace mineral interactions need to be thought out, because these can be crucial for functions like the immune system, hormones and reproduction. "Be careful chasing one trace mineral or a 'flavor of the month' because they all need to be balanced," he said.
Cattle feeders should consider the importance of calf implants that can help the animal achieve one-tenth of a pound in additional average daily gain. Still, less than 15 percent of the producers are doing it, he said.
"If you are feeding cattle you should think about an implant program."
De-worming is another excellent place to continue spending money, he said, because it is a tool that makes the cattle more profitable.
For beef producers who raise cattle in feed yards using various kinds of mixed rations, Zehnder noted that with current prices it's very important to make use of every calorie. With silage valued at $60 a ton, every bit of it needs to get used by the cattle.
"If a pile of feed is heating, that energy is being used and the cattle aren't getting it," he said.
Some cattle producers also use co-products, like those from ethanol plants. He reminded them that each co-product may have a different nutrition profile because there is plant-to-plant variation so they should ask for, or get their own analysis.
When using this kind of co-product, he said, it's important to change the mineral program for the cattle, because co-products have a high level of phosphorus. The overall cattle ration will need to maintain a proper calcium-phosphorus ratio.
Another thing to keep in mind when using co-products is the amount of shrink and spoilage there will be in these feedstuffs. "There will be 10 percent-plus on any of these and you need to build that into the use of it."
Plastic feed bags can be used successfully to store these kinds of co-products.
Zehnder told his cattle producer audience that he had spent time in Russia and had the opportunity to see grocery stores and their meat counters.
"No matter what kind or size of grocery store it was, they all had large meat counters." Much of the meat was being marketed as "American corn-fed beef," he said.