Cattle feeding

Experts say focus on getting energy calories into cows. 

COLUMBIA, Mo. — In the 2018 drought, forages for cow herds are short. Without rain, pastures didn’t grow and stored hay for winter feeding fell short. But feed options are at hand that were not available before.

This drought has more feed grains available at possibly lower prices, Scott Brown, University of Missouri beef economist, said in a news release.

Missourians hard-hit by forage shortages have byproduct feeds available. The leftovers from making ethanol or biodiesel provide feed to fill the forage gap.

MU Extension beef nutritionist Eric Bailey said herd owners should supplement the forage. Hay is not only in short supply, much of it is poor quality.

“Poor hay needs energy supplement,” Bailey says. “Corn and soyhulls have been the cheapest commodity feeds in Missouri this summer.

“Don’t get complicated in making daily rations. Focus on getting energy calories into cows. Five pounds of corn plus 5 pounds of soyhulls supplements even straw or baled cornstalks.”

High-priced hay makes lower-cost byproducts appealing, the MU specialists told farmers.

Producers must shift their way of thinking about wintering their herds, Brown said. This takes changing feeding routines. It may require adding on-farm feed storage.

Help in finding lower-cost feeds is available on the MU Extension Agricultural Electronic Bulletin Board ( The MU feed source service is updated weekly. Farmers can use the directory to find the nearest, least expensive or most available feed.

The AgEBB alternative feed page goes beyond state lines for sources in neighboring states. Iowa and Illinois crop farmers had more favorable growing seasons than Missourians.

In the 2012 drought, the impact was across the Corn Belt. With grain shortages, crop prices shot up. This time, Missouri has greater yield loss than other states in the region.

“Drastic price increases are not as likely this year,” Brown says. “Shopping for byproduct feeds may offer less expensive rations for maintaining cow herds.”

Bailey has also been busy teaching producers how to extend available pastures and types of forage. For some it means weaning calves early and culling unproductive cows. Some producers have made silage or balage from varied crops.

Both Brown and Bailey will speak on Sept. 17 at the MU Thompson Farm west of Spickard. Nutrition was added to talks on heifer breeding and genetics. Brown’s price outlooks gain value as profit margins shrink from feed prices.