Grazing season is still several months away, and as snow covers the corn stalks, many cow-calf producers have started to feed hay.
Managing the supply of feed on the farm requires organization and attention to detail, says Denise Schwab, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist.
“Right now, you need to be doing an inventory of feedstuffs so you know if you are going to be short,” she says. “It’s easier to stretch feed now than it will be later.”
Many of the Midwest’s pastures are in rough shape due to drought conditions and over-grazing. Schwab says that makes it even more important to stretch out that grocery dollar.
“Your cheapest source of feed are the stalks, provided you can supplement some energy,” she says. “You want to do this more with cows during gestation than during lactation.”
That supplement can be hay or some sort of ethanol co-product, such as dry distillers. Schwab says this is a sound strategy for the next few weeks, but after that, something like hay and silage may be used.
Producers could also look for alternative feed sources, such as soy hulls. Schwab says availability will depend on location, and she adds hulls could be expensive.
“If you are close to a processing facility, you may be able to find different feed ingredients,” she says. “Whatever you use, make sure you get it tested to make sure it’s providing the nutrients you need. It’s also probably going to be very wet, so you will probably need to dilute it some.”
Producers could also limit-feed cows during the winter, says Julie Walker, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University.
Something like a bale ring, she says, will cut down on consumption and wastage.
“Let them in and let them eat for a limited amount of time,” Walker says. “You want to balance the ration to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need, and make sure there is enough bunk space as well.”
Cows could also be sorted. Walker says 2- and 3-year-old cows are going to be thinner than mature cows and will need proper feed access.
“You want to make sure they are getting enough to eat, so if you have the facilities, sorting the young cows away from the older cows can be helpful,” she says.
Regardless of the feed choices, Walker says having it tested is important.
“You want to test the hay, and you want to test distillers or anything else,” she says. “Those samples will tell you how to manage your resources through the winter.”