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Supplement cost and supplement value: There’s a difference

While it’s true that Agriculture is enjoying some record or near record dollar receipts for commodity goods, input costs are rising and thus need to be managed. Everything costs more these days. From fuel to food, no one can escape all the rising costs. In this economy, we should all be challenged to find what the best buy is for the dollar and match purchases to our needs, goals and objectives.

Livestock supplements are no different.  Cost factors are real and price volatility seems to be the norm these days. Beef producers today are scrutinizing all input costs more now than ever. Some are even tempted to abandon supplementation practices or drastically ration them; but cattle nutrient requirements are not related to the ingredient markets, so doing this would have negative consequences. The need for supplementation didn’t go away, and if we want to continue to have and market healthy productive animals, we cannot afford to neglect nutrition. Still the challenge is to determine the best value for a purchase.

Price is What's Paid, Value is What's Received

First, one can evaluate the true cost of a supplement beyond the purchase price. Evaluate how a given supplement program can help save on other input costs such as fuel, labor, equipment cost, etc. A bargain supplement or feed really isn’t a bargain if more dollars are spent to feed it, store it or handle it.

Even cheap supplements cost money, and again, if a bargain perceived supplement is not “managed” correctly, it actually becomes a waste of money or a bigger cost. I see this much too often with free-choice mineral supplements where a problem with performance is not as much the mineral, but the management (or lack of). I’ll save this discussion for another blog as one could write a book on this topic.

The same is true in evaluating quality of a supplement; take time to truly evaluate what you are buying.  For example, with Low Moisture Blocks there are competing brands and formulations with equal protein content and feeding levels that would differ as much as $200 per ton.  This $200 sounds like a lot, but when evaluating cost per head per day (which we should always do), a $200 per ton difference on a supplement that is consumed at ¾ of a lb. per head per day translates to 7.5 cents. So, if you are already committed to spend 25-30 cents for a protein, vitamin, mineral supplement and are evaluating multiple brands or formulations,what more is received for spending another nickel? More than likely a significantly higher level of trace minerals and vitamins, a medication or additive that improves performance is gained. Other benefits would also exist such as better quality assurance; better service from a supplier, additional applications of supplement, packaging options, and the list could go on. 

Another way to describe this above is “value-added” or getting a 50-100% improvement in the supplement for only 20% more cost.  When evaluating supplement strategies, be sure to look at the supplement value in terms of, you get what you pay for and think of other things you buy.A $40,000 ¾ ton 4WD pickup can offer a lot more than a $25,000 ½ ton 2WD.  The most cost effective supplement is usually not the one that costs the least.