Editor's Notebook: Winter Feed Cost Challenge

November 2, 2011 11:25 AM

KimWatson grayThis winter may bring cattle producers even more challenges in terms of weather and keeping
winter feed costs in check. Hay supplies were pushed this summer and fall as grazable forage was limited in drought-ravaged areas, forcing not only liquidation but feeding of hay earlier than expected.

University of Illinois researchers are looking at winter feeding alternatives. Dan Shike, University of Illinois beef cattle nutritionist, says one of the best alternatives available for Illinois cattle producers is cornstalks and coproducts such as distillers’ grains, corn gluten feed and soyhulls.

If you plan to allow cattle to graze crop residue, look at water sources to make sure cattle have access to water. Then consider the grazing plan to optimize grazing usage. If access or water are an issue, consider feeding baled cornstalks.

You also can feed cows coproducts, but you may want to work with a nutritionist to optimize this type of supplemental feeding. Distillers’ grains and corn gluten feed are both high in protein and phosphorus, Shike says.

"Much of the work we have done at Illinois has focused on lactating cows in late winter and early spring before we can go to grass," he says.

The requirements of gestating cows can often be met by 5 lb. to 8 lb. of distillers’ grains or corn gluten feed in addition to ad libitum access to cornstalk bales. However, lactating cows may need as much as 12 lb. to 15 lb. of coproduct, depending on cow size, milk production levels and the nutrient analysis of the cornstalks, soybean stubble, wheat straw or poor-quality hay.

Another way to reduce costs is to reduce or eliminate feed waste. In the Cattlemen’s Notebook section, you will find tips for doing this, as well as research results on the type of round bale feeder that reduces hay waste.

Right on target. Montana State University (MSU) researchers near Miles City conducted a two-year study that showed heifers can safely eat 20% less during the seven months between weaning and the start of breeding. They won’t suffer growth from the reduced rations, and producers can save up to $21 per animal.

MSU Extension beef specialist John Paterson says it’s been traditionally thought that heifers
needed to reach 65% of their full body size by the time of first breeding, but this study disputes that. It shaves the percentage to about 55%, meaning that heifers could be bred at lighter weights.

You can find more on that research in the "Winter Feeding" section.

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