As the weather turns and grass is disappearing we are all thinking about making sure we have our cow herd's needs met for the winter feeding season. I would ask that this year you might consider looking a little deeper into a few areas, including dry matter offered, feedstuff storage, and feeding waste reduction.
One item that is often overlooked on many operations is analyzing feedstuffs. This should be done each fall for Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN), Crude Protein (CP), and Dry Matter (DM) values so you can put together a balanced ration for your herd that will meet their nutrient requirements.
Based on values derived from field research, a 100-cow operation in Minnesota that sells calves at weaning has a prorated minimum DM requirement of 6600 lbs per brood cow. This will include total requirement needs of all animals within the herd.
In contrast, in the 2008 Minnesota Farm Business Management Report the average Minnesota cow-calf operation spent 8307 lbs of DM per brood cow. Thus, the average Minnesota cow-calf operation over fed their herd by 1700 lb. Cost of feed can be reduced by making sure we feed to just meet requirements cattle.
Additionally, proper wind protection and mud prevention can reduce 26 percent of feed costs.
Storage loss is responsible for much of the DM loss (up to 60 percent of harvested material). Therefore, choosing a high and dry area to store feedstuffs is key because once moisture content of bales reaches 20 percent, DM loss starts increasing dramatically.
Also, if hay bales exposed to the elements are positioned side by side, touching sides, or stacked in a pyramid (with no cover), moisture accumulation can lead to mold growth and DM loss.
Storing hay on surfaces with good drainage such as crushed rock or pea gravel will prevent DM losses. An inline baler wrapper may be an option to consider if forage cost increases to greater than $64/ton.
Indoor hay storage invariably leads to the least amount of DM loss. However, this option must be evaluated to ensure that the cost-to-benefit ratio is low.
Losses in DM also need to be avoided during feeding. A study conducted at the University of Michigan by D. D. Buskirk determined the amount of waste by feeding hay in various structures: a cone feeder, bale ring, hay wagon, or cradle feeder.
Feeding through cone feeder yielded a 3.5 percent waste, while the bale ring led to 6.1 percent waste, and the hay wagon and cradle feeder led to 11.4 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively.
We at the University of Minnesota just completed a study evaluating feeding methods and amount of waste. Shredded hay was fed in bunk or on ground while whole baled hay was placed in a ring or rolled out on ground. Results showed that shredded hay fed in bunk resulted in 2.5 percent waste, while that fed in a bale ring led to 6.9 percent waste.
In contrast, shredding hay on ground or rolling a whole bale out led to 18.2 percent and 19.6 percent waste, respectively.
Extrapolating this data to the average Minnesota beef producer would lead to a reduction in hay loss of 14 percent by feeding in a structure vs. no structure. When hay is priced at $73 ton, the resulting savings would be $4358 in 100 cows.
Regardless of feeding method, we must remember to adjust our offered DM accordingly so as not to exceed the daily DM requirement.
We also evaluated waste created when feeding a dry or wet supplement to supplement hay needs. This was done by balancing the energy needs of a 1350-lb cow using wet beet pulp or dry corn screenings.
Beet pulp waste was fed either in an inverted tire, bunk or by placing it on the ground. The greatest supplement loss (22 percent) was by placing beet pulp directly on the ground while feeding beet pulp in a bunk or tire led to only 2 percent supplement waste.
Feeding corn screenings either in bunk or inverted tire led to 0 percent supplement waste. From these results it would be suggested that feeding a supplement should always be done in a structure and using a dry supplement whenever possible.
It should be noted that when doing price comparison between supplements, especially beet pulp and screenings, that we must do this on a DM bases. Typical DM value of wet beet pulp is 24 percent DM compared to corn screenings at around 88 percent DM.
Overall, the biggest thing we need to do is evaluate various feeding segments of our operations. Look to see if there is one thing a year that can be done to reduce loss of DM and save money. It all starts though with getting your feedstuffs analyzed and feeding the correct about of DM at 2.0 percent BW to meet your cows' needs without over feeding.
Then look to see if the feed method is appropriate for the operation, and evaluate what one item could be changed to reduce DM loss and save money. That savings then could go toward the items that helped reduce that loss and leave extra to put into our pockets at the end of the year.