Dr. Barz: Utilize crop residue to cut feed costs
November 8, 2016
This has been a great fall for harvesting. We had a few foggy mornings but most afternoons it dried enough to allow for combining. The beans are complete and the corn is moving rapidly. Most farmers were pleasantly surprised with their yields and the strong bean prices. Calf sales are well underway and the prices are definitely less than they have been the last few years. For many producers in our area the cost of running a cow for a year is close or more than the value of the calf. It doesn't look like prices will improve soon, so we must examine ways of decreasing the cost of production.
For several years pounds have been king. We have allowed not only our slaughter weights to increase, but also the frame size of our cows. With high calf prices, the more pounds we produced the more profit. Efficiency didn't really matter because we had plenty of dollars in sales to cover our extra expenses. Many promote decreasing cow size as a means decreasing expenses. Unless you are willing to sell all your cows and buy animals of smaller frame size, this process takes many years. Genetics are important in this transition because we don't want to sacrifice the calf's weight while we reduce the amount of feedstuffs needed to maintain the cow.
Pasture rent has been very expensive in the last few years. Hopefully rents will decrease but that isn't very likely. We must utilize any management techniques we can to decrease costs. Our fall rains helped the grass and regrowth to do well allowing us to continue grazing. Anytime we can graze rather than feed gathered feedstuffs we are decreasing costs. Wheat stubble has shown a lot of regrowth this fall, but we must be wary of grass tetany. Alfalfa can be grazed but we may get an occasional bloat.
In our area we have always utilized our corn stalks. Recent improvements in combines and their ability to chop residue has made this option less attractive. When hay prices were high, many of these leaves and stalks were baled, but this year they are not worth much on the hay market. Bean stubble is also a good source for a short time, but as soon as a strong wind blows, all the leaves and other goodies are all in the fence line.
Cover crops are also very useful. In our area many producers use beets, turnips, radishes, and other plants to improve soil conditions. The tops stay green even after frost and the cattle consume them readily. Many times the cows will chew on the beets which are protruding above ground. In sugar beet areas, the beet tops are marketed as a feedstuff.
Rye is a very short season crop. Many producers plant winter rye to utilize as an early season forage. It is heartier than most winter seeded grains and consistently produces good stands. If you have a farming and livestock operation, this winter seeding can be grazed or harvested and a row crop planted in late spring. I have one producer who plants winter rye and harvests it once it heads for silage. Then he plants silage corn in the stubbles. One timely rain the end of June made lots of tonnage of inexpensive feed.
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Always make sure to provide supplemental mineral throughout the winter. The calf is rapidly developing in the cow's uterus and needs essential minerals and nutrients to assure the birth of a healthy vigorous calf. It is also very important to test your feedstuffs allowing you to mix a cost-effective, well balanced ration for your cows.
Residual feeds are very important in minimizing winter feed costs in our herds. The longer we can utilize them before deep snow covers them, the less harvested winter feed we need. Most years you will be rewarded for stretching electric fence and hauling water with decreased cost of production. Consult your nutritionist, veterinarian, or your extension specialist to evaluate a program for you this winter and formulate plans for next spring.