Strategies to decrease expenses without sacrificing production goals

Now more than ever, livestock producers are looking for ways to save on feeding costs. The increased price of corn and other commodities puts a squeeze on producers’ already tight budgets. “We need to be willing to think outside the box as far as cost effective ways to feed cows and calves to reach production goals,” Mark Johnson, Ph.D., livestock extension specialist with Oklahoma State University, said. With that in mind, there are management practices producers can implement to save money on their feed bills without jeopardizing production goals. 

Feed High-Quality Forage

Currently, there is an opportunity to purchase high-quality hay at a reasonable price. Unlike corn and other commodities, hay prices are relatively stable. “What you don’t see is the hay market going crazy like the commodity market,” Eric Bailey, Ph.D., state beef extension specialist with the University of Missouri, said. “So, there may be an opportunity to pay more for good grass hay and avoid some of that supplement feeding some folks are doing.”

Bailey emphasized the importance for producers to feed high-quality hay to their cattle. Though baling hay later in the season provides more tonnage, the quality of the hay is subpar to hay baled earlier in the season. “When the quality is poor, then we have to backfill those missing nutrients in a cow’s diet with supplements,” Bailey stated. 

Livestock specialists recommend taking steps to improve forages. “Anything they can do to get better quality forages will make a difference,” Bailey said. “Whether that is grazing cover crops this fall and stockpiling fescue this winter, or if they have crop ground nearby, a lot of folks are planting summer annuals and grazing that.”

Stockpile Fescue as Winter Forage

Start planning to stockpile pasture for the winter months. The pastures should be able to provide most of the nutrition animals require, therefore keeping the need for feed supplement at a minimum. “This winter, stockpiled tall fescue is our secret weapon because of the forage quality for the majority of the winter,” Bailey said. “There are studies in Missouri and Arkansas that show that quality stockpiled fescue will meet a beef cow’s nutrient requirements well into January and into February.”

Supplement with Feed Only When Needed

Now is the time to evaluate whether or not a herd needs supplemental feed. Livestock specialists advise producers to review their operations to determine if they are providing quality forage for grazing, have enough forage and if their stocking numbers are correct. 

If all those factors are in place, it’s likely the herd doesn’t need much feed supplement. “I question why anyone would be supplementing cows on pasture this time of year, considering the rains we have had and the pasture conditions throughout the state,” Bailey stated. 

Assessing a cow’s body condition on a regular basis will help producers gauge whether their animals need additional supplements. Bailey recommends producers write down their cows’ body condition scores once a month in order to track changes over time. A cow’s body condition score will tell a producer a lot about whether the animal is getting all the nutrition it needs. 

Analyze Forage Management Practices

The increase in commodity prices may spark producers to reevaluate their management practices. Researching and implementing strategies that improve forage management will help save money in the long run. “Anything you can do to tighten up your forage utilization and put more high-quality forage through a cow’s mouth is going to be the best bet we have to reduce those high commodity feed prices or to avoid them,” Bailey added.


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