By Karl Hoppe
Drought certainly leads to high-cost forages due to a lack of locally available supplies. High corn prices result in higher feed cost for all commodities: corn is the price leader for energy-based feeds. Soybean is the price leader for protein-based feeds; higher corn and soybean prices have increased livestock feed prices.
Getting more nutritional value out of your feeds, or improving feed efficiency, can accomplished through several approaches.
Know the nutritional value of your feeds. Take representative feed samples, submit to a feed analysis laboratory, and use the results to formulated rations. Blend feeds and supplement ration deficiencies.
Correctly formulate (balance) rations. Feeding protein and energy below the nutritional requirements of livestock results in poor digestion and weight loss. Feeding more protein than required is a wasted expense and feeding more energy than required leads to undesired weight gain. Some weight gain is acceptable and beneficial, but overly fat cows may exhibit poor fertility and have difficulty calving.
Improve grain utilization by processing. Processing grain can improve feed digestion by 5% to 50%. Feed efficiency is improved 7% to 10% by grinding or rolling corn. Grinding, rolling, flaking, extruding, and cooking are methods used to increase the digestibility of grains.
Feed a totally mixed ration (TMR). Mixer wagons improve digestibility because every bite of feed is the same, so digestion is uniform and constant. On-board scales reduce errors in mixing ration ingredients. A well-mixed ration also decreases feed sorting in the feed bunk, and feed efficiency is improved up to 10%.
Feed additives are beneficial. Monensin and lasalosid are ionophores that change the rumen microbe populations for more efficient energy convertion. Ionophores improve digestion by 5% to 7% or more. Direct fed microbials, probiotics and enzymes can also improve feed efficiency.
Match the ration to the cow’s nutritional needs. A cow’s nutritional needs change throughout gestation and lactation. Underfeeding during late gestation and lactation will decrease rebreeding rates.
Watch Body Condition scores. Prolonged underfeeding will lead to weight loss resulting in poor calf vigor, reduced milk yield and poor rebreeding. Improving body condition will take several months to accomplish with mostly forage-based rations.
Bedding helps. While 3 to 5 pounds of straw or stover bedding per day is an expense, bedded cattle will have higher marbling scores at slaughter. Mud and extreme cold increase the energy requirement to move and stay warm, and bedding provides a comfortable environment.
Reduce feed waste. Expensive feed is even more expensive when it’s wasted. Mixer wagons, ground hay, feed bunks and hay feeders help reduce wasted feed. Good feed bunk management goes a long way toward saving money.
Hopefully these concepts will help reduce your feed bill when feed prices are high. Remember, these concepts also work when feed costs are lowSource : ndsu.edu