While we were fortunate enough to have a mild fall, winter feed resources are looking to be a hot commodity with high hay and corn prices. As you start planning your winter feeding strategies, here are some options to keep in mind to prevent the winter feed bill from getting out of hand.
One strategy to reduce winter feed costs is to find an alternative to the high-priced hay. This year more than normal, cornstalks appear to be the cheapest stored forage source.
However, utilizing cornstalks as the primary roughage source in the diet can be a challenge due to particle size and palatability of certain components of the corn plant. For best results, stalks need to be ground — not offered free-choice in a bale ring — and include additional moisture in the ration to improve mixability and reduce sorting.
Fiber digestibility tends to be a limiting factor feeding cornstalks, so a good rule is that a cow can eat about 0.9% of her empty body weight in neutral detergent fiber (NDF). Therefore, limit cornstalk inclusion in the TMR to about 15 pounds for a 1,400-pound cow.
Controlling feed waste also becomes critical to controlling the feed bill. Due to the high requirements of the growing fetus during the third trimester, a supplement is often needed regardless of forage resource. However, by being strategic, a supplement can be utilized to reduce forage intake and stretch the hay supply. Keep in mind that a grain supplement isn’t a 1:1 replacement for forage intake and that feeding strategy also plays a role in feed waste. Feeding on the ground can result in up to 40% waste whereas feeding in some kind of a bunk can reduce waste to as low as 5%.
If feeding a TMR, restricting cow intake is the best way to control feed waste. If feeding bales, strive to feed only what cows will consume in one day or simply limit the time that cows have access to the bales. When limit feeding, ensuring nutrient requirements are met is critical. University of Nebraska has demonstrated success of limiting gestating, non-lactating cows to 1.5 - 1.8% of body weight on a dry matter basis of a nutrient dense diet to meet cow requirements without repercussions of performance or cow discomfort.
Getting representative forage nutrient analyses is critical to control costs.
Baled cornstalks tend to be a poor source of crude protein and energy with drastic variations in quality due to growing conditions, weathering post grain harvest and pre-baling, and baling method. Likewise, forage quality of hay is impacted by growing, harvest, and storage conditions. Having a good nutrition profile on each forage source allows for precise supplement formulation to meet cow requirements without overfeeding expensive hay
When purchasing hay, rather than simply pricing on a per bale or per ton basis, your money will be better spent if you look at the nutrient analysis, and value that hay based on the cost per unit of protein or energy it will provide.