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Protein Supplementation for Beef Cows

December 31, 2013
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By: Kevin Gould, Michigan State University Extension

With 2013 corn harvest prices approximately half of those in 2012, cow-calf producers may choose corn for supplementation again. It’s probably the cheapest source of energy on the market if you can feasibly deliver it to the cow herd. The challenge may be meeting the protein requirement of the cow as she moves into late gestation and early lactation. Protein requirement of the pregnant cow steadily increases as the fetus develops reaching a peak requirement near 10.3 percent crude protein in early lactation.

Generally forages offer a significant portion of the protein requirements but may be insufficient when lower quality feedstuff like crop residues or poor quality hays are utilized. In the past five years, producers have chosen distillers grains (DG) to increase protein in the diet cost effectively. This is generally very effective if you compare feedstuffs based on protein cost per unit. In the past DG has been priced very similar to corn on a per ton basis. This year is definitely different. DG prices the week of Dec. 15 at 19 markets across the Midwest averaged 142 percent of corn and was nearly 50 percent of the cost of soybean meal. The rule of thumb suggests when DG reach 62 percent of soybean meal, the value per unit of protein in each feedstuff is equal. Without attempting to guess future market prices, one would suspect the DG value will remain high as global demand and high domestic soybean prices keep pressure on protein prices. Bottom line; know the values of your feedstuff inventory.

We all need to recognize the increased nutritional needs of cows in late gestation and lactation. If ration deficiencies occur, do the math and calculate protein or energy costs, consider trucking, storage and local availability in your decision making process. At present, corn is the cheapest energy source and DG looks like the cheapest protein source, but like the weather, it will probably change.

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