Even with increased use of distillers’ grains in beef feedlot rations; most rations still contain at least 50 percent corn on a dry-matter (DM) basis. This makes it easy to understand why profitability in the feedlot industry is tied so tightly to feed, and in particular, corn prices.
The general rule of thumb is that feed costs account for approximately 65-70 percent of total costs of finishing beef cattle. This may have been the case one year ago; however, with today’s high feed prices this proportion is likely closer to 80 percent.
Using current feed prices of $7/bushel for corn and $95/ton for modified distillers’ grains, a contemporary feedlot ration containing 60 percent corn, 25 percent modified distillers’ grains, 10 percent corn stalks, and 5 percent supplement (DM basis) would cost approximately $254/ton DM.
To place 900-pound yearlings in the feedlot in late June at $1.25/pound and assume a 3.5-pound average daily gain and 23-pound dry matter intake with a $254/ton ration cost, the feed and total costs of gain would be 85 cents and $1.05/pound, respectively. The breakeven fed cattle price would be approximately $1.18/pound.
Current markets for November look to be near that number, meaning that cattle placed in late June may not lose money, but may not turn a large profit, either.
However, there are options available to reduce corn inclusion in the ration, and therefore reduce the impact that high corn prices have on cattle feeding returns. We are fortunate in Minnesota to have many alternative feedstuffs available that can fit into a feedlot ration, often as a partial replacement for corn. Some of these feedstuffs are widely available and available year-round, while others are regionally and/or seasonally available.
Examples of some alternative feedstuffs that may replace a portion of corn in the ration are distillers’ grains, corn gluten feed, corn syrup, corn screenings, crude glycerin, soybean hulls, beet pulp, brewers’ grains and potato waste.
When comparing these feedstuffs to corn, it is important to know the energy content (in mega calories of net energy for gain/pound, or Mcal NEg/pound) of each feedstuff to put them on a price/unit of energy basis. Energy content can be obtained through feed sampling or by using book values.
The energy content of corn can vary widely depending on the corn processing method and growing conditions, but generally ranges from 0.65 to 0.70 Mcal NEg/pound.
To calculate a feedstuff price factor relative to corn on an energy basis, first make two divisions: divide the NEg content of the alternative feedstuff by the NEg content of corn, and divide the DM content of the alternative feedstuff by the DM content of corn, and multiply the two answers. This will give you the feedstuff price factor relative to one ton of corn.
To calculate the feedstuff price factor relative to a bushel of corn, multiply the ton factor by 35.7, as there are 35.7 bushels (assuming 56 pounds) of corn in a ton.
For example, to compare $7/bushel corn that is 0.68 Mcal NEg/pound and 88 percent DM to modified distillers’ grains that are $90/ton, 0.72 Mcal NEg/pound and 45 percent DM, use the following calculation:
0.72 Mcal NEg/pound for modified distillers’ divided by 0.68 NEg/pound for corn = 1.06
45 percent DM for modified distillers’ divided by 88 percent DM for corn = 0.51
1.06 x 0.51 = 0.54 — This is the feedstuff price factor relative to a ton of corn
0.54 x 35.7 = 19.4 — This is the feedstuff price factor relative to a bushel of corn
To use these factors, multiply the feedstuff price factor by the bushel price of corn, and if the result is less than the current price of that feedstuff, then that feedstuff is a better value than corn. If the result is greater than the current price of that feedstuff, then corn is a better buy.
To continue the above example with modified distillers’ grains, multiply the feedstuff price factor of 19.4 by the current $7/bushel price of corn, and the target price is $135.80. This means that if modified distillers’ grains can be purchased and delivered to the feedlot for less than $135.80/ton, it is a better value than corn. Current modified distillers’ prices range from $85-100/ton, meaning that modified distillers’ is currently a much better value than corn.
The Table above lists some other readily available alternative feedstuff price factors relative to corn, assuming corn is 88 percent DM and 0.68 Mcal NEg/pound.
Other regionally or seasonally available feedstuffs can also be utilized. Wet beet pulp, for example, is generally available in sugarbeet producing areas from October-April. Wet beet pulp has a feedstuff price factor of 6, which indicates that a feedlot could pay up to $42/ton for wet beet pulp in place of corn. Wet beet pulp can often be acquired for free or less than $10/ton at sugarbeet processing plants.
Corn screenings are often available in the fall after corn harvest, and have roughly the same or possibly greater energy value than corn.
The feedstuff price factor for corn screenings is 38, indicating that the target price for this feedstuff is $266/ton with $7/bushel corn. Screenings are difficult to find at this time of the year, but when found will generally cost much less than $266/ton.
One factor that is important to consider is all of the current market prices are prices at the plant, or FOB. To accurately price the alternative feedstuff, freight costs must therefore be considered.
This is particularly important for wet feedstuffs such as wet or modified distillers’ grains or wet beet pulp.
For instance, at $3.50/loaded mile freight costs, a 25-ton load of wet distillers’ grains transported 50 miles will add $175, or $7/ton, to the delivered cost of that feedstuff.
These calculations should also be used with common sense and awareness of any negative interactions or maximum inclusions of a feedstuff.
For instance, excess feeding of soybean hulls have been reported to cause bloat in cattle, therefore inclusion of this feedstuff is generally less than 15 percent of dietary DM.
Book values for NEg or DM may also not be accurate for every particular feedstuff, therefore actual feed analyses or recent analyses on feedstuffs will allow for more accurate calculations.
The bottom line is that many options to lower cattle feed costs are available. To best take advantage of these opportunities, it is important to be aware of what is available in the local area, and how these feedstuffs compare to corn and to one another.
It is very rare to completely replace corn with an alternative feedstuff, but these factors will allow a baseline for partial replacement of corn to lower ration costs and increase returns to cattle feeding.
Visit the University of Minnesota Beef Team website at www.extension.umn.edu/beef for more information.