The snow is gone, soon green grass will replace the brown and the countryside will be dotted with cow/calf pairs.
Until then, however, producers are faced with tight and expensive supplies of hay. Corn is plentiful and inexpensive, but producers continue to try to improve efficiency when it comes to feed costs.
Early spring might be a good time to inventory resources, says Justin Waggoner, Extension beef specialist with Kansas State University in Garden City.
He says understanding the nutrient needs of beef cows should help producers determine feeding options.
“Look at what you have on your farm as far as forages and feed, then shop for supplements if necessary,” Waggoner says. “That’s when the economics start to take over.”
He says protein is typically short at this time of year, adding once a protein source is purchased, storage could be an issue. Waggoner says producers should have a plan for how to store purchased feed before writing the check.
Options for purchased feed include alfalfa hay and ethanol co-products, among others.
“You want to make sure you aren’t wasting hay. Twenty percent losses can happen in some cases,” Waggoner says. “Use a bale ring or roll out the hay.”
Ionophores may also be used to increase feed efficiency. Waggoner says only Rumensin is allowed for cow/calf operations.
Shopping local can help keep costs down, says Dan Loy, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University. He says some producers are able to get creative when it comes to feed, using options such as corn screenings or unused products from something like a local micro-brewery.
Ethanol co-products are also a good source, although Loy says prices have gone up relative to corn.
Corn silage might be another option, Loy says, although it requires careful management to minimize storage losses.
He says better feedbunk management can also lower feed costs.
“You want to avoid bunk spoilage, and be careful when you fill the bunks that all the feed is making it in there,” Loy says.
He cautions producers to be careful when shopping for cheaper feed ingredients.
“You may be saving money, but watch that it doesn’t end up costing you more in a lower rate of gain,” Loy says.
Utilizing technology like implant scans can also boost feed efficiency and lower feed costs, he says.
“There are many things you can do to lower your feed costs and increase efficiency,” Loy says. “Make sure you are getting the most out of the feed you are using.”