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home articles Feed & Nutrition |

Winter ration considerations for beef cows

published: December 13th 2016
by: Travis Meteer
source: University of Illinois

 


Feed costs represent over half the total cost in a cow-calf production system. The majority of feed costs are from feeding cows during the winter season when most grasses are dormant. As a result of this, producers can greatly impact the profitability by managing winter feed costs. This article will discuss and illustrate options for developing a least-cost ration on your farm.

Diet Considerations

Depending on your farm set-up, available equipment, and your willingness to purchase diesel fuel, your least-cost ration may look very different than your neighbors. Availability and proximity to co-product feeds, such as corn gluten feed (CGF) and dried distillers grains (DGS) may also shift your diet make-up.

The traditional method of winter feeding is hay. Hay is variable in quality. If hay is not sufficient in protein, energy, and other nutrients, then cows may be malnourished. This may occur even though cows have all they can eat. Poor quality forage and crop residues have a high proportion of fiber to protein, thus slowing digestion. Consequently, cows can eat only 1.5% of their body weight (BW) per day of low-quality forage. If the forage is of high quality, cows can consume around 3% of their BW daily. Poor quality hay likely needs to be supplemented to meet cow requirements

With supplementation, cows can actually digest more low-quality forage, up to 2% of their BW. Grain supplementation should be no more than 0.5 % of the cow's BW. If the forage is of such poor quality that more supplementation is required, you should consider using co-products to avoid negative associative effects that occur when using grains.

The most economical way to feed cows is to keep them grazing. Brassicas and small grains with cornstalks can be used to provide fall and winter grazing very economically. If the cattle need to be fed due to snow cover or other factors related to your farm, you should develop a low-cost method of feeding the cows.

If your cows are thin or heavy milking, you will need higher energy diets than the examples. If your cows are larger than the example, they will need proportionally more feed.

Simple Least-Cost Rations

Table 1 shows the typical composition of some common feeds and their prices. Using the values from Table 1, diets were calculated for a 1,300-pound dry cow (last third of gestation) and for a 1,300-pound lactating cow in average condition with average milk production. Table 2 shows associated waste with feeding method. Limit TMR (total mixed ration) and ad libitum-big bales were used in the calculated diets. Tables 3 and 4 show calculated amounts and costs of various diets. These diets are for illustration. You should consult your nutritionist or Extension specialist for herd diets.




TABLE 1. Typical feedstuff values

 

TDN. %

CP, %

DM, %

Cost, $

Corn

92

9

88

3.50/bu.

CGF (dry)

84

20

89

100/ton

WCGF (wet)

85

21

53

35/ton

Corn Silage

70

8

38

35/ton

DDGS (dry)

92

27

88

130/ton

MWDGS (Modified-wet)

92

28

47

65/ton

Alfalfa hay (good)

60

19

85

185/ton

Grass hay (good)

54

11

85

140/ton

Poor hay (mature fescue)

46

7

85

65/ton

Cornstalks

52

5

80

45/ton

Soybean meal

85

44

90

308/ton

TABLE 2. Hay waste

Feeding method

% wasted

Limit TMR -- limit-fed total mixed ration in a bunk

0

Ad libitum ("unlimited") -- bunk, small bales or ground hay

10

Ad libitum -- big bales

30

Ad libitum -- big bales (outside)

40

Note that Table 3 shows there is a large variation in cost per day for the diets—they range from 80 cents to $4.63 per day. If cows were fed for 120 days, the high-cost diet for the dry cow would be $460 more (per cow) than the low-cost diet. That difference could certainly "make or break" your profit situation!

TABLE 3. Calculated diets for a dry cow (1,300 lbs.)

 

Lbs. (as fed)

Cost/d, $*

Limit TMR poor hay/DDGS

15/10

1.14

Limit TMR poor hay/CGF

15/10

0.99

Limit TMR poor hay/MWDGS

17/14

0.80

Limit TMR poor hay/WCGF

19/20

0.97

Limit TMR alfalfa

26

2.41

Limit TMR Good Grass hay

33

2.31

AdLib alfalfa big bales

39

4.63

AdLib Good Grass hay

32

3.01

AdLib poor hay/corn

26/5

1.42

AdLib poor hay/ DDGS

26/5

1.43

AdLib poor hay/ CGF

26/6

1.41

AdLib poor hay/ MWDGS

26/10

1.40

AdLib poor hay/ WCGF

26/13

1.33

AdLib Stalks/MWDGS

26/6

1.01

AdLib Stalks/WCGF

26/9

0.97

Limit TMR Corn silage/DDGS

39/3

0.88

*Includes the cost of wasted feed for AdLib @ 30% waste of forage

TABLE 4. Calculated diets for a lactating cow (1,300 lbs.)

 

Lbs. (as fed)

Cost/d, $*

Limit TMR poor hay/DDGS

15/15

1.46

Limit TMR poor hay/CGF

15/16

1.29

Limit TMR poor hay/MWDGS

20/22

1.37

Limit TMR poor hay/WCGF

20/34

1.25

Limit TMR poor hay/corn/SBM

10/15/2

1.57

AdLib alfalfa big bales

39

4.63

Limit TMR alfalfa

36

3.33

AdLib poor hay/corn

26/11

1.79

AdLib poor hay/ DDGS

26/11

1.82

AdLib poor hay/ CGF

26/12

1.71

AdLib poor hay/ MWDGS

26/22

1.72

AdLib poor hay/ WCGF

26/28

1.60

AdLib Stalks/MWDGS

26/18

1.33

AdLib Stalks/WCGF

26/23

1.21

Limit TMR Corn silage/DDGS

44/7

1.23

Limit TMR Stalks/Corn silage/DDGS

12/40/05

1.30

Limit TMR Stalks/Corn silage/CGF

12/40/05

1.22

*Includes the cost of wasted feed for AdLib @ 30% waste of forage

Summary

Cow/calf producers that can identify and implement least-cost rations during the winter will be the most profitable. Remember, cattle are most profitable harvesting their own feed. Looking into extending the grazing season is a must. When cattle must be delivered harvested feeds, evaluating the most economical ration will quickly return dollars to the farm.  

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