Hold down winter feed costs with these feed alternatives

Oct 29, 2010
by DTN

For Troy Ellis, winter feeding is all about holding the line on body condition and making sure cows and heifers are in good shape for a round of AI work by mid- November. But this year, it’s looking to be a more expensive proposition.

Corn prices are up, and in some areas, hay supplies are tight. That could make it more of a struggle to maintain the 5 to 6 body condition score (BCS) Ellis needs to continue to wean a 90 percent-plus calf crop at his ranch near Bowling Green, KY. But Ellis says he’s holding the line on his feeding regime, which includes a mix of corn gluten feed and soybean hulls with dry distillers grains added as needed. This comes up to about 20 percent protein, and he feeds it at a rate of three to four pounds a day, several days a week. After breeding, cows are turned out on any available stockpiled fescue, and then they are fed hay.

As producers like Ellis move to feed hay this winter, one researcher says there may be a way to cut feed costs by about $1 per head. The key is a mix of cornstalk residue and DDGS (dried distillers grains with solubles).

University of Illinois researchers Dan Shike, Taylor Braungardt, Nathan Post and Dan Faulkner set out to find the most economical way to feed cows this winter without sacrificing performance. Shike says, “Our study revealed that producerrs could save about $1 a day per cow when feeding a combination of cornstalk residue and coproducts compared to hay.” The study focused on spring-calving herds.

Shike compared four things: 1) free-choice cornstalk residue with DDGS; 2) free-choice cornstalk residue with corn bran and DDGS; 3) free-choice cornstalk residue with corn bran and high protein DDGS; and 4) freechoice hay. Three-year average price data was used to calculate feed costs. Overall, the cornstalk residue, along with any of the coproducts, cost less than the mixed alfalfa hay (62 percent TDN).

In addition, cows fed the hay lost slightly more body weight than those fed the coproduct diets. There was, however, no change in BCS.

In addition to studying what producers could feed, the study looked at the most efficient way to feed it. What was most economical depended on herd size. Shike reports that in a 50-cow herd, the least expensive winter feeding plan was free-choice cornstalk residue and handfed DDGS. In a 100-cow herd, hand-feeding with buckets was cheaper than using a tractor, but obviously not very practical. Using a tractor to deliver DDGS, however, still kept cost below that of free-choice hay.

The biggest savings showed up in cow herds of 200 or more. Shike says total cost for the hay at $2.50 per cow per day was easily $1 more than the three DDGS diets combined with free-choice cornstalk residue, which averaged $1.44 per cow per day.

“The breakeven price for hay would be about $76 per ton, when corn residue is priced at $55 per ton and DDGS is $124.71 per ton, the study reports. This means if alfalfa-mixed hay cannot be produced or purchased for less than $76 per ton, feed costs could be reduced by feeding corn coproducts and corn residue bales. Producers who decide to try cornstalk residue shouldn’t wait to buy it, adds Shike. He suggests locating supplies as soon as possible.

As alternative feed supplies vary in price and availability by region, the key to an economical winter feeding program is being aware of the options. It’s important to know the nutritional value of any feedstuffs you consider this winter. For high energy, good choices include whole soybeans, ground wheat, cracked corn, distillers grains and whole cottonseed. For good sources of crude protein, consider soybean meal, cottonseed meal, distillers grains, whole soybeans and brewers grains.

To compare prices of a variety of feedstuffs, try the University of Illinois’ Cost of Feedstuffs Calculator at www.farmdoc.illinois.edu under their FAST Tools section. This online tool allows producers to compare the cost of purchase, transport and storage for 120 different feedstuffs. — DTN