How to cope with rising feed prices
Good management has often been called “doing the usual things unusually well.” So, consider these five common-sense approaches as you deal with the coming “sticker shock” in feed prices:
• Feed prices are likely to skyrocket going into 2011.
• The No.1 tip of the five given here is to unload your freeloaders.
• Alternative feeds, such as distillers grains, are cost-cutters.
• No freeloaders on the payroll. Putting inexpensive feed into an unproductive or inefficient animal is one thing. Doing it when feed costs are out of sight is something else again.
Make sure open cows are identified and culled. Cattle with recurring health problems should sent on their way. Keep only those replacements you really need, and make sure they meet your quality standards.
• Maximize feed utilization and minimize processing costs; grain processing (grinding, cracking, rolling, etc.) is a must for barley, sorghum, and wheat regardless of the situation. It may be optional for corn and oats.
As the grain level in your total ration increases, the need for a larger particle size increases. So, the rule of thumb is to process shelled corn if it makes up less than 50% of total ration.
Makeup of the total ration is also important. Whole dry corn could be the best alternative to feed with finely ground ingredients like bakery byproduct. Processing could reduce sorting of feed in the bunk, however.
• Minimize feed waste. Do all that you can to minimize storage and feeding losses. Round-bale hay stored on the ground can easily lose 25% of its feeding value.
Grain bunks and hay feeders that minimize trampling losses, wind losses, and rain losses will pay big dividends. Avoid overfeeding, which encourages feed rejection and spoilage.
• Investigate all feed alternatives: Admittedly, feed bargains tend to be few and far between as corn prices rise. But you can find them if you look.
Even coproducts derived directly from corn tend to be priced lower than corn when their true feed value is considered.
If you live within 100 miles of an ethanol or wet-corn milling plant, the wet form of the byproduct can be especially economical.
For brood cows, a rough energy replacement rate would be 3 pounds of wet distillers grains plus 2 pounds of wet corn gluten feed for every 1 pound of shelled corn.
Based on Iowa State University research, average-fleshed cows in the last third of gestation that were fed cornstalks for roughage, required 3 to 5 pounds of dried distillers grains, or 8 to 15 pounds of wet grains.
In early lactation after calving, those values rise to 6 to 8 pounds dry, or 20 to 23 pounds wet distillers grains.
Those feeding hogs and poultry are largely locked into corn and soy regardless of the price. Ruminants have the advantage of being successful with a tremendous variety of feeds!
• Minimize environmental stress. Feed can substitute for shelter, and shelter can substitute for feed when it comes to cattle energy needs.
Wind chill is especially costly in cattle. For example, at 0 degrees F with a 20 mph wind, the wind chill is -20 degrees F.
To maintain body condition, this increases a 1,100-pound beef cow’s energy requirements almost 65%, over her needs at 30 degrees F.
That extra required energy may be cheap when corn is $3, but a whole different issue when it’s $6.
If buildings aren’t possible, anything that breaks the wind can be a huge feed-saver. Woodlots, fencerows or natural canyons can be effective means of keeping condition on cows in wintertime.
Harpster is a Penn State animal scientist and a beef cow-calf producer.
This article published in the December, 2010 edition of AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST.