The current cattle economics situation is making everyone evaluate their feeding programs and overall production cost. Markets have their cycles and it is hard to say how long this period of low prices will last, given how quickly markets have moved in the last 2-3 years. As you look at your feeding program, remember it is the cost per pound of product sold that is the true driver of profitability. How each change in cost will impact production must be considered. Too often we focus on cost per cow or cost per acre without consideration of what that change does to pounds of beef sold. A recent article had a more gloom and doom tone and even suggested that we needed to evaluate the expense of vaccinations since it was really just insurance. Caution is need to avoid cost reduction, resulting is significant performance reduction. In future blogs, we can focus more on the income side of the budget and the risk of cost cutting reducing pounds sold. Below I outline how I work through evaluation expenses. I use percentages for this discussion. Percentages also helps put cost items into perspective.
- What are the big-ticket items for the cow calf producer? Feed cost with forage being the largest expense items. When you evaluate the cost on a percentage basis, pasture and hay cost are the two largest costs from both feed and overall cost perspective. Feeding Hay is the most expensive thing we do!
- Changing feed cost will have the largest impact on the cost. Changing hay cost is the most practical approach. Changing pasture cost is much slower and difficult to change.
- What does grazing crop residue like corn stalks or stock piled pasture save in cost? Using several University crop budgets, I could find these cost ranges for harvesting forage with tractors and diesel fuel on a cost per acre basis. Using the cow to harvest is much less expensive per acre.
- How does grazing crop residue change the feed budget? Grazing stalks or stockpiled pasture for 30 days will replace the need for about 1000 pounds of hay per cow or a 22% reduction in hay cost per month.
- Crop residue and stock piled pasture will mature forage that is low in protein and carbohydrates. Corn stalks will be 6-8% crude protein and stock piled pasture will be slightly more but still less than what is needed by the cow. Protein supplements will be needed to get optimal digestion and maintain cow performance. The savings in hay feeding cost will be many times more than the added cost of protein supplements.
CRYSTALYX® supplements offer a variety of supplement options for low quality and low protein forages. Utilizing these forage sources and letting the cows do the harvesting is a viable option for reducing feed cost and overall production cost. Supplement strategies will need to change to maintain body condition and reproductive performance of the cows. This has been a very mild fall which should allow for extended days to graze crop residue and stock piled forage.