Ways to Increase the Cowherd Stocking Rate

Published on: 15:34PM Apr 20, 2012

By Luke Miller, nutritionist at Great Plains Livestock Consulting

High grain prices, low pastureland supply and weather challenges have many cattle producers in a tight spot. However, we have already seen a relatively high level of heifer retentions this winter. As the national cowherd begins to rebuild, where are these cattle going to go, and what are they going to eat?

Many producers are looking for an economical supplementation program to help increase stocking rates. There are a number of feeding programs that utilize self-feeders. Assume mature cows consume 8 lb. per head per day of supplemental feed. This would allow stocking rates to increase by 15% to 25%. Assuming a mix of at least 50% protein/limiter supplement valued at 30¢ per pound and 50% corn at 11¢ per pound, we have a complete feed cost of $410 per ton. If cows are limited to an intake of 8 lb. per head per day, the supplement alone would cost $1.64 per head per day.

Another supplement program to consider is a mixture of pelleted soybean hulls and pelleted corn gluten feed at a 1:1 ratio. Adding a pelleted mineral supplement to this mix at 250 lb. per ton, with the ability to control intake, would allow us to make a relatively fair comparison between two programs that utilize a self-feeder. If gluten feed costs $200 per ton, soybean hulls cost $180 per ton and the pelleted limiter costs 35¢ per pound, the complete feed would run about $254 per ton. If intake is 8 lb. per head per day, this mix adds $1.02 to the cost of running a cow for one day. Hand-feeding a similar product, but without the self-limiting technology, would cost closer to 76¢ per head per day.

Get what you pay for. Tubs are a convenient way to provide additional protein to cows and increase forage utilization. As with any product, you get what you pay for—some have a high level of mineral fortifi cation and others have little. Likewise, intake may vary from 0.5 lb. to 1 lb. per head per day. Assume we feed a molasses-based tub that weighs 200 lb., has an expected consumption of 0.6 lb. per head per day and costs $90. This product contains 20% crude protein and has a relatively high level of mineral fortifi cation. This would cost 27¢ per head per day and would supply 0.12 lb. of protein per head per day.

An alternative to tubs is handfeeding corn gluten feed and a free-choice mineral without phosphorus. On average, these minerals cost about 7½¢ per head per day. Hand-feeding 2 lb. of corn gluten feed at $200 per ton would cost another 20¢ per head per day—almost exactly the same as feeding the tub. However, because we are feeding 2 lb. of gluten
feed, which is about 20% crude protein, we’d supply about 0.4 lb. of protein per head per day, or about 330% more than the tub.

As more hay fields are plowed under, we may need to utilize wheat straw or cornstalks. Grinding these roughage products and mixing them with a wet byproduct feed can be a good option for cattle. Depending on the cost of high-energy feeds, a limit feeding program may be an alternative to help stretch hay, but will require additional management skills,
labor, equipment and bunk space.

Don’t forget other management practices that impact nutrition. Rotational grazing can nearly double grazing effi ciencies. Ionophores, such as Rumensin and Bovatec, can improve feed effi ciency by 3% to 5% at a cost of about 3¢ per head per day, to improve conception rates and reduce coccidiosis in calves.

LUKE MILLER is a nutritionist at Great Plains Livestock Consulting in Eagle, Neb., with a masters degree in ruminant nutrition from the University of Missouri–Columbia. A cow–calf producer himself, he enjoys helping farmers and ranchers maximize profitability.