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Feeding the beef cow herd – stop wasting feed (Proceedings)

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Aug 01, 2009

With the recent increase in prices of feedstuffs used in beef rations along with the increasing availability of by-product feeds, now is the time for veterinarians to become more involved in nutrition consultation with their beef clients. Research by Miller and Knipe from Illinois showed that when comparing profitability of beef herds, 56.7% of the variation in profit was due to one single thing; nutrition cost/cow/year.

Nutrition goals and tips

1.) Beef cows need to fit the environment you have. We spend a lot of time and effort to make the cows we have work in the environment where we put them. If we instead ask what type of cow works for the environment we have, we will have far fewer nutritional concerns.

2. )The more the cow grazes (grass, stalks, stockpiled forage) the less $$ it costs to feed her. There has been much work done in many states on increasing grazing days. Herds that graze longer during the year tend to be more profitable. When all the expenses of making hay are analyzed, many times the producer cannot justify owning any hay equipment.

The amount of crop residue that goes to waste and is not consumed by beef cows is staggering. Adding 30 days of stalk grazing can save the average herd about $30/cow in feed cost.


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3. )You can't 'starve' the profit out of a cow, but you can feed her so much that you 'starve' the profit from the operation. Herds that underfeed their cows are rarely going to have a herd that is productive enough to be profitable. The goal is to supply adequate nutrition, but not to excess or deficiency. One of my clients used the quote of "If my cows are too fat, I'm wasting my money. If my cows are too thin, I'm wasting my investment." I could not agree more.

Weaning the calf at 160-180 days enhances fertility because:

The cow goes into winter in better flesh→ she calves in better flesh→ rebreeds more quickly. You also save money because the cow can utilize low cost forages or crop residues. The calf is also fed directly which is more economical.

4.) Inventory your feedstuffs as to quality and quantity. Test all forages every year. Testing feedstuffs and balancing rations will save an average of $25/cow/year There are many easy-to-use ration formulation programs available. This is a great value-added service for you to provide. Be sure to document savings for your herds.

5. ) It is legal to feed corn or corn and soybean co-products to beef cows. Many producers brag that their cows don't get any grain all winter long; they only get hay. Figure the cost of full feeding (free choice) hay and it is nearly always the highest cost ration there is. None of our high profit herds feed hay free choice to their cows. Adding ingredients like corn, soy hulls, corn gluten, distiller's grains or corn silage to the ration will almost always decrease the cost and will likely improve the nutrition.

6.) We are not feeding cattle. We are feeding rumen microorganisms. Make all changes slowly.

7.) Losses associated with hay storage can be staggering. The following are percent loss with various storage methods:

Barn: 2-8%
Stacked, tarped on pad: 2-8%
Off ground*: 13-17%
Net wrap, ground: 15-25%
On ground, twine: 25-35%
*Bales placed on crushed rock, pallets, tires, concrete blocks, telephone poles, etc.