Feeds & Feeding

One of the largest costs for cattle producers is feed costs.

Costs associated with feeding the producing beef cow represent over 60% of the total costs in a cow-calf production system and are the largest determinant of profitability for beef producers. Likewise, cost of gain is one of the largest determinants of profit for the cattle feeder. 

Winter feeding strategies

For the cow/calf producer, the majority of feeding costs occur in the winter months when grazing is limited and pastures are not productive. Thus, improved winter feeding strategies can greatly impact profitability of the cow-calf producer. Despite this, producers have been slow to realize the benefits of improved winter feeding strategies because of low-cost grains and co-product feeds in past years.

Rising feed costs, drought, and land availability constraints are all factors in influencing feed costs. Producers will need to investigate and implement improved feeding methods to maximize profitability in the coming years.

Because the ruminant animal has such a unique digestive system, the animal can utilize a wide array of feedstuffs. Alternatives to the traditional feeds like pasture, hay, and grain can be quite surprising. By-products of human food waste streams, ethanol manufacturing, grain processing, and others can be utilized in small to moderate amounts.


Cattle are the ultimate recyclers!

Examples of by-products that are used in cattle rations include

  • corn gluten feed
  • distiller’s grains
  • soybean hulls
  • fruit and vegetable waste
  • bakery waste
  • cottonseed hulls
  • beet pulp

Incorporating these alternative feedstuffs into a balanced ration can lead to proper animal health and performance while upcycling these by-products. Without animal consumption they would generally be landfilled or composted.

Key to profitability

Providing a balanced, least-cost ration to cattle is ultimately the best management strategy and a key to profitability. A balanced, least-cost ration can be formulated from a number of different feedstuffs. Product availability and transportation costs can result in numerous different least-cost rations within a region. Not all feedstuffs are ideal; balancing the pros and cons of feedstuffs is dependent on individual operations. An improved feeding strategy can result in numerous different systems, but at the end of the day an improved feeding system should result in lowering feed costs and an increase in opportunity for profits.

Investigating alternative feeds and improved feeding strategies can lead to lower feed costs and more profit opportunity. Ultimately, proper animal nutrition will lead to healthy animals, more profit potential, and a wholesome, nutritious beef product.

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