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Feeding a Beef Cow: Analyze Your Options

February 28, 2014
Cow Cold Weather
  
 
 

By: Zen Miller, University of Wisconsin Extension Ag Agent

Feed costs for over-wintering a beef cow are a major expense in beef cow /calf operations. Some decisions have already been made that will affect the outcome of both your costs and success at this point.

If you have fed to the appropriate body condition you do not have to feed for gain but just to maintain body condition before calving. Winter conditions cause cattle to need more feed to maintain weight. Depending on temperature, wind, shelter and moisture cattle’s feed consumption will vary greatly.

So, let’s assume you have a 100 day feeding period left before cows have calves and go to grass pastures. What can we do to reduce costs and supply the needed nutrients for a successful calf-crop?

You might be surprised that feeding more corn and replacing hay might work this year. A spreadsheet developed by Bill Halfman, Monroe County Agriculture Agent, UW-Extension Beef Team, will help you analyze your options. The results may lead you to a ration with more corn. Not what we would have expected after the last few years of high corn prices. But corn price has fallen more than hay price as a percentage and substitution in beef cow winter diets might save you some hard earned money.

The spreadsheet works two ways. First a breakeven calculator lets you put the price of corn in and it values the hay at different TDN values. In my example I put in a fall price for corn of $4.10 per bushel and the breakeven price for hay at 50% TDN was $83.17 per ton, 54% TDN was $89.83, 58% TDN was $96.48, and 62% TDN was $103.14 per ton as determined by the spreadsheet. This tells you that buying hay at these different TDN levels needs to be at this price or lower to stay with diets of largely hay. If hay is higher than the figures then you would start to consider feeding some corn to lower the amount of high priced hay in the diet.

The second part of the spreadsheet lets you evaluate your savings based on some feed assumptions and diet changes. In my example I used a 1350 pound cow and the spreadsheet assumes she will eat 2.5% of her bodyweight in dry matter feed or 38.8 pounds. I substituted 50% of the hay with corn or about 10 pounds, 9.7 according to the calculator. With hay at $120 per ton, price taken from the UW-Extension Upper Midwest Price report, and corn at $4.10 per bushel it figures my cost per day to feed a cow ($2.33), with corn substitution , savings per cow per day of ($.40) and then the cost over the 100 day feeding period per cow of $40.37. You can also put your number of cows in and it will figure the saving for the whole herd per year. For my example of 35 cows it was $1413.09 for the 100 days. You should also consider the waste of hay and the hauling cost involved if you are moving products around.

You should always work with a professional nutritionist to balance rations and provide adequate protein, energy, and mineral supplementation. Proper bunk management and space is a necessity when feeding cows so all can consume their required pound of feedstuffs. Beef cows need about 30 inches of bunk space and it is recommended that the lot provides about 500 square feet per cow. A gradual step program should be used to bring cows up on corn and reduce hay amounts to reduce digestive upsets. You might also consider feeding corn silage, scorn stalks and distillers grains with little or no hay to reduce costs this year as well.

You can find this spreadsheet at WBIC Decision Tools and Software. The Spreadsheet also has links to papers on; Reducing Losses when feeding hay to Beef Cattle, Alternative Energy Sources for Winter Feeding Cows, and other feeding topics. Have fun figuring out you options and saving money.

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