Profit is not a common word in the vocabulary of many producers. So many factors beyond their control: weather, the price of corn and diesel and of course what happened at the sale barn.
Successful producers watch their genetics; buy the best and sell the rest.
But the farmer goes out every day, rolls out another bale, mends another fence and looks for ways to squeeze out a little more.
Dr. Justin Sexten is a University of Missouri Extension Beef Specialist, focusing on nutrition. Sexten says even the most savvy producers can still find ways to minimize costs while maintaining productivity.
“The very last thing I’m going to talk about is spending money,” Sexten began. “How can we economically feed your cow herd without taking money from your pocket?”
Most producers will say they cull hard but Sexten advises to cull even harder. Reducing the number of mouths to feed but keeping the food supplies at the same level means giving more feed to each cow. So far – no increase in feed costs. Plus some additional income from the sale of the culls.
Many ranchers will keep an open cow around and count on her to calve in the fall. Sexten reminded us that an open cow, (assuming she does calve in the fall) could still go 488 days without producing any income. But that cow’s been costing the producer for every single one of those unproductive days.
Just in case the point wasn’t clear Sexten added this advice as a question: “If you go out to buy a good set of fall-calving-cows and they run this group into the ring – and they say ‘this group of cattle did not breed the last time they were exposed to the bull’ – would you buy them? No, but we start a lot of fall-calving-cow-herds that way.”
Sexten also advised grouping cows 90-120 days before calving. He made it simple: Group One is marginal cows; thin and old. Group Two is made up of those the rancher thinks are “fat enough.”
The method is to use an average of three pounds per head per day to arrive at a total amount of feed, but give Group One four pounds per day and Group Two only two pounds. Sexten explained, “You give the young, thin group the greater amount of feed and reduce the feed to fat-enough cows. Without increasing feed costs you direct nutrients to the group most in need. If you feed the average amount by definition, you under-feed the young, thin and overfeed those fat enough.”
Test, Test, Test
Sexten warned against assuming the type and amount of supplement needed when the rancher does not know the quality of his forage. Sexten said, “Feed costs aren’t high enough if you are not testing your forage.” Forage should be sampled prior to feeding – not in the field before it is stored. Nutrients will be lost that the test says are there. Soil samples can be taken to your local county extension office. The regular soil sample is free, and the extension handles the shipping and fees, and gets back your results.
Prioritize Four Feed Sources:
1. Utilize crop residue fields
2. Pastures and stockpiled forages
3. Quality stored forage
4. Poor-quality forage, supplements
This list brings the farmer back to the need to test in order to know whether the forage being provided is of good quality or poor. A cow will have to consume 25 percent more if the forage quality is poor. And that may be more than the cow can get.
Types of Feeders to Reduce Waste
Dr. Sexten has compared four types of hay feeders and their overall efficiency or waste. The winner was a cone feeder with an enclosed bottom. It contains the hay that cows drop. He admitted that even with some waste there might be good reason for rolling out hay. The best reason is that the farmer can control the amount of hay put out. It can also reduce cows getting trampled around a ring – since there is no ring. And it also helps spread the resulting manure out in the pasture.
Round bales should be stored with the rows facing north and south. There should be space between the rows to allow water to run off. And if possible, storing bales on a grade will help ground water to move away from the bales.
And finally, what about haying in general? One way to look at it according to Sexten is, “making hay harvests all the N, P and K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) off a field. Buying it from your neighbor essentially lets you take their minerals rather than using up your own.”
"Modifying nutrient demand, efficiency and supply offers the chance to minimize feed costs within a farmer's existing production system," Sexten concluded.