Limit feeding cattle could reduce winter costs

Andrew D. Brosig/Business Farmer A feed truck fills the bunk at the Dinklage Feed Yard east of Torrington, Wyo. Providing a more nutrient-dense ration that includes corn can be a cost-effective way to feed.

BEAVER CITY, Neb. – As winter weather rolls in and frost covers the plains, grazing cattle becomes more difficult and, in some cases, impractical – if not impossible. Many producers rely on a mix of stored hay and grain to get their herd through the winter, but university extension educators from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Kansas State University have found a more cost-effective way to maintain herds. 

According to Erin Laborie, UNL extension educator, limit feeding corn provides a more nutritious diet at a significantly reduced cost. 

“When we compare the two on an energy basis, corn has a lot higher energy content and we’re able to provide that energy and other nutrients by feeding less,” she said. “It’s more nutrient-dense than the hay.”

Dale Blasi, KSU beef extension specialist, spoke about limit feeding cattle during the 13th Annual Feeding Quality Forum in Sioux City, Iowa. He told producers they could save money from the delivery of the feed up until the cattle goes to market. 

“Early research points to shaving off truckloads in feed delivery because of higher density rations,” Blasi said. “You save your truck driver, you save your equipment wear and tear. You have to take that type of stuff into consideration.”

Laborie wrote on the UNL Extension website that corn is much more affordable than hay when total digestible nutrients are considered. Corn costs 8 cents per pound of TDN, while hay is closer to 11 cents per pound. Blasi said that, in the long run, producers who commit to the method can save in the neighborhood of $21 per head. 

According to Laborie, limit feeding corn works across the board, no matter how the cattle are classified. 

“It worked well across the board,” she said. “I think the important thing is that whatever class of cattle you’re using, that you are balancing the diet to meet their nutrient needs. That diet is going to look a little different depending on how much they get fed corn. 

“If you’re feeding a group of calves, or dry cows or lactating cows, they’re all going to be different because their requirements are different.”

Limit feeding isn’t necessarily a new strategy, Laborie said. Although some producers have experimented with it for years, UNL has been conducting studies to learn more about the best way to feed cattle with limited grass, and limit feeding emerged as a frontrunner. 

“There are some producers that have been doing this for a while,” Laborie said. “Here at the university recently, we’ve been doing more confined cow feeding because when we run into issues in years like 2012 where there’s a drought, or whenever producers have a limited amount of grass, to maintain that cow inventory they look at alternative ways for feeding cattle. To maintain that cattle inventory, they look at alternative ways of feeding cattle.”


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