Most of us are in winter feeding mode. Winter feeding means more intimate time spent with the cow herd that, for the most part, has been lost for the past few months gleaning stalks or cover crops. The upper Midwest has experienced a fantastic fall and early winter for grazing and cows are coming in with exceptional body condition scores.
As you start to make repairs on the feed wagon (that would have been easier in August) and tweak feed rations as feed stuff samples come back, this is a perfect time to analyze how much feed you will waste this year. This is always a shocking figure to be surprised with. Shrink will never completely be eliminated, so we’ll take a look at the convenient ways to lower shrink.
Since we are into January, there are some things that have happened that we can’t go back on in order to save feed. All our feedstuff options are put up for the year and we know what we must work with. Proper feeding now needs to take place to save or salvage what we have. The biggest opportunity to save feed is to not over-feed an ingredient. The best way to not do this is by building out rations based off your cow’s nutritional needs. There are many great nutritionists out there capable of doing this, so I highly encourage you to work with your feed representatives to get their beef nutritionist on your side developing and forecasting rations. If this isn’t an option, I’ve always enjoyed working rations and budgets through ration balancer calculators. University of Minnesota and Oklahoma State University both have excel-formatted ration calculators. These are handy to give ballpark ideas of where your rations need to be. Just know, these are built from averages and your feedstuffs will have some variations.
There are a few big takeaways you will find after running your forecasted rations. Cow rations from mid-gestation to early lactation will drastically vary in levels of crude protein. We often over-feed alfalfa hay through gestation in a time when we can really cut costs from a ration. Save that good quality alfalfa hay for your lactating cow when she has a higher requirement for protein. The other ingredient we often overfeed is corn silage. The energy requirements during this time are also lower, and corn silage should be diluted with roughages. This will lower feed costs and prevent the cows from getting obese. Corn silage is a great resource for energy during cold days when your cows are rapidly burning calories, and obviously needed if you need to bump your body condition scores higher.
Reducing feed waste during the actual feeding of the cows seems like a no-brainer, but it always takes effort and attention to overcome. Waste from sorting is usually the largest contributor to hay waste. The best way to combat this is to grind low quality feeds to get smaller particle sizes that can’t be sorted. Low quality hay will have around 20% waste, and at a value of $150/ton, the waste accounts for $30/ton. When you calculate out the hour grinding fee, it usually ends up around $10/ton. This is a great way to save feed waste and lower feed ration costs. This also provides you with a great opportunity to grind your higher protein hay with those ditch hay bales or corn stalk bales when your cow’s crude protein needs are lower. Another easy fix to lower feed waste is to not allow your cow access to all the feed she wants. Bunk feeding or limit feeding to her requirements will always decrease waste versus free choice feeding. The last easy fix is to prevent more shrink is to stop any more spoilage. If you have bales sitting in a low wet area, move them to higher ground. If your DDG’s are in an open gravity wagon, stick a tarp on it. If your silage pile is not covered and has a foot of moldy crust on top – well, remember it for next year because there’s no fix now.
Winter months are our most expensive feeding months, and feed costs are still high. In a bullish cattle market, it’s easy to let loose on expenses. But, by focusing on doing rations right and minimizing waste, you’ll spread those margins even wider.