Shopping for feeds can cut cost of cow winter-hay supplements
When drought boosted corn and soybean prices, beef-herd owners faced new challenges. They can't rely on traditional feeds as low-cost supplements for winter forages.
"Producers must look at every alternative this winter," says a University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist.
"Look at everything and compare prices," says Justin Sexten. Look at wheat, cotton, peanuts, rice and even milo beyond usual corn and soybean rations. Best choices may depend on what is available nearby.
Most producers learned the value of distillers grains and gluten feeds, both byproducts of corn processing. They already knew the value of soybean hulls, byproducts of making soybean meal.
"Compare prices based on nutritive value. Cheap feed might not be the best buy," Sexten says.
"Most feeders see corn at $8 per bushel as out of sight," he says. When compared on price and feeding value, however, corn provides cheaper feed than soybean hulls, for example.
"The $8 corn calculates out at $285 per ton, compared to $300 per ton for soybean hulls," Sexten says. However, corn with high starch content has limited use in a forage diet. Too much starch added to the cow's rumen upsets microbes that digest forage fibers.
"Price and feeding value will determine what to use," Sexten says. "As soybean prices continue to drop during harvest, keep an eye on soybean meal, a traditional supplement. It may become competitive. Soybean meal has twice the protein value of corn gluten feed."
Talking to farmers at MU Wurdack Farm, Sexten advised learning different alternative feeds. "Cottonseed meal is quite different from cottonseed hulls. Each serves a role in a ration. Cottonseed hulls, with high fiber, can be used in a calf ration. Cottonseed meal might be best for cows eating low-quality CRP hay, high in fiber."
Be wary of feed with hulls in the name, Sexten told herd owners. Hulls of soybeans have more nutrients than hulls of cotton, peanuts or rice. Cottonseed hulls and peanut hulls are used for fiber in diets. Rice hulls are best used for poultry litter.
Each supplement has different levels of protein and energy. Distillers grain from ethanol has more protein, energy and fat than corn gluten, a byproduct of corn sweeteners.
All have potential use in a diet for different types of livestock.
Nutritionists mix and match to formulate least-cost rations for each livestock need. For cows, rations are based on available forage.
Feeding challenges for cow-herd owners will be confounded by the range of nutrient levels in winter forages, especially low-end hay. The drought lowered crude protein content in much harvested hay.
A hay-quality test becomes the starting point for making any cow ration, Sexten says. "Hay with below 7 percent crude protein needs supplements."
Price comparisons on dozens of alternative feeds became more easily obtained on the MU Beef Resource website. The current list shows feeds and prices from 103 vendors. Links were added to feed lists from neighboring states.
MU byproduct price lists have been updated weekly since the 1980s. Originally for dairy farmers, the feed list attracts shopping by beef producers.
Go to http://beef.missouri.edu to click on co-product lists. The lists show feed, vendor, location and price.
Feeding cows the same way as last year might not work, Sexten says. Shopping and comparing prices can cut costs of keeping cows--and keeping a cow herd together in tough times.
Supplement cuts cows' winter-feed cost 10 percent
With high costs of feed for wintering cows, herd owners should consider adding monensin to grain supplements for winter forages. The additive, trade name Rumensin, controls coccidiosis, a disease caused by intestinal parasites.
The additive improves beef-cow feed efficiency 10 to 15 percent, says Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist.
"That's like feeding hay for 90 cows to 100 cows," Sexten says. "It improves digestion of poor hay. Adding Rumensin to grain fed to cows on winter hay makes economic sense."
Recommended rate for beef cows is 200 milligrams per head per day, mixed into one pound of grain. Monensin must be fed every day, according to label.
Monensin, an ionophore, reduces cases of coccidiosis in beef herds. The disease results from a common internal parasite. While coccidiosis may not show symptoms in cows, it can be deadly to weaned calves.
In addition to disease control, ionophores change the microbial mix in the cow's rumen, which digests forages. The microbial change also cuts methane production. Carbons in methane are digested rather than emitted as gas.
"For an easy way to use the supplement, ask your feed dealer to mix it with a grain ration," Sexten says. "It gives a low-cost gain in feed efficiency. A daily dose costs about 1.8 cents. After adding mixing cost, the treatment costs about 2.5 cents a day.
"I encourage you to think about this," Sexten told farmers at the MU Wurdack Farm field day.
He added a caution: Grain with monensin should not be fed to horses, which do not have a rumen. It can be fatal to equines.