Escalating feed costs: What does that mean for cattle producers?

Aug 9, 2021

Since early this spring, we’ve seen several different reasons for rising feed costs: COVID; tight supply, less-than-ideal growing conditions in some parts of the country — too wet early, some late planting with some dry weather. Tim Clark discusses what that means for cattle producers and how self-fed supplements can help.


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Tom:    I'm Tom Martin, here today with Tim Clark, Eastern Region Sales Manager with CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements, to talk about escalating feed costs and what that means for cattle producers. Welcome back, Tim.

Tim:     Thank you, Tom.

Tom:    So, what has been or what is the current situation with feed costs in general?

Tim:     Well, since early in the spring, (we’ve seen) several different reasons for (rising feed costs): COVID; tight supply, as far as supply and demand; working down our carryover stocks of both corn and soybeans; just grains in general; plus, less-than-ideal growing conditions in some parts of the country — too wet early, some late planting with some dry weather. It’s just really made commodity prices increase dramatically. And it doesn't appear that we're going to have much relief coming until harvest, and harvest is a bit poor.

            You know, we could see these crashes continue for quite some time, but (they have had a) pretty significant impact on the cost of energy and proteins in general. And then, on top of that, add in packaging costs and labor costs. Everything's just working its way up, and things are going to be more expensive in general.

Tom:    Why should producers supplement beef cattle given the increasing cost of feed?

Tim:     Regardless of where cost is at, in the cattle industry, we get paid for selling pounds of calf or pounds of beef, and any time we cut nutrition, we're going to impact performance. Cattle prices are still decent. They haven't increased, like other stuff, but (they are) still pretty good. You’ve got some good prices for feeder calves and yearlings today, so the economic return potential is there. You just don't want to give up performance by cutting nutrition. It’s kind of like, if you’re thinking about farming in general, just because prices might be a little bit low, you don’t cut back on the fertilizer and crop inputs. You try to get as much yield as you can.

Tom:    Well, let's talk about that return for a second. What return on investment can producers expect when they're using CRYSTALYX products?

Tim:     You’ve got to look at both the short term and the long term from the cow-calf herd. Short-changing protein nutrition — when you get into the late summer, fall, winter feeding — it can impact body conditioning, which will impact how well the cows breed back. If you’re going to skimp on mineral nutrition, that can have a long-term impact on both reproductive performance and overall animal health. A pregnant cow does not make as much money; it actually costs most producers $600–800 to keep that cow around. And for that kind of investment, she needs to produce a calf every year for us.

            And then you can kind of look at the different type of products we have. For spring calving herds, we’re approaching weaning season. In some of the dryer areas, we’re doing some early weaning. If you look at some of our stress products, Brigade® or Blueprint® Battalion®, when it comes to weaning calves, you don’t need to save very many calves from death loss or sickness to get a return.

            We typically think, for our stress tubs, we’re going to see a 2:1 return if it’s just good-quality to average cattle. If you’ve got some high-risk animals or a high-risk situation, the return on those stress-type blocks at weaning and receiving, can give you better than a 3:1 (return on investment). In general, with the long-term impact of reproduction on body condition with cows, for protein supplements with mineral delivery, that’s easily a 3:1 (return on investment). And what’s pretty exciting is, with our Blueprint line of products and the research that we’ve done, we’ve been able to track improved reproduction and increase calf weaning weight. When you crunch all those numbers, we’re over a 4:1 investment.

            So, things are costing more. But with CRYSTALYX, you’re getting $2–4 back for every dollar you invest on your cattle nutrition program.

Tom:    On many past podcasts, we’ve talked about how important it is for producers to know the cost per head per day. Can you explain that a bit more and how that relates to the economics of an operation?

Tim:     Yeah. When you start looking at, especially, our products, they’re delivered in either a 200-pound container or a 250-pound steel container. And we’ve got a lot of products that have exceeded that $100-a-barrel cost. Some of them — more specific ones, depending on the mineral profile and additives used — were above $130–150. So, on a per-tub unit, it looks pretty expensive, but you’ve really got to get down to, “Okay. What is the cost per head per day?” Because with our manufacturing process and the way we’re able to get all the moisture out of the molasses, we have half to three-quarters of a pound intake on a lot of our proteins. Some of our mineral products were as low as a quarter-pound.

            So, when you take that one hundred dollar bill and look at it at a three-quarters of a pound a day, it’s a pretty economical way to compare. It gives you a true comparison. You know, you could feed a cheaper supplement. But if they eat 2 to 3 pounds of it, that’s actually costing them more on a per-head-per-day basis. So, the per-head-per-day basis just is a way to get different types of feeding programs on a comparable plane. So, you’re really comparing apples to apples.

Tom:    Okay. What are some cost savings from using CRYSTALYX products that ranchers may not be recognizing but (that) need to be taken into account?

Tim:     The biggest one is time. You can handfeed a grain supplement every day, or you could feed cubes or cake every other day or every third day, but that takes a further amount of time and labor. With our CRYSTALYX barrels, we’re putting product out every 7 to 10 days, depending on the group size. So, you know, you're really reducing your time investment and your labor investment.

So, time and labor savings is a big one that needs to be taken into consideration. The other one is equipment. I had a customer tell me the other day that some feeding equipment and handling equipment is 3 to 4 months’ wait just due to the impact of COVID and supply chain disruptions. So, not only are they pretty expensive, they might be even hard to get, a mineral feeder. So, with CRYSTALYX, you don’t need any other feed equipment. The barrel is the feeder. So, that’s becoming more of a significant savings than people realize.

Tom:    Lastly, Tim, if you would, tell us a little bit more about the different CRYSTALYX products that are available. Are there different fortification levels to choose from?

Tim:     Yeah. We have a lot of products, which is a benefit and, sometimes, a challenge. That’s been a nice addition to our service offering, is our CRYSTALYX app. That can help people sort through all the different products and really (find the ones that) fit what they need. For our protein products in general, you line up the protein level of our supplement with the forage quality. The lower your forage quality — whether that be mature fescue or you’re grazing cornstalks — you need a higher-protein supplement. So, we have protein ranges from as high as 40% all the way down to 12% and then some supplements that just deliver minerals, if you're delivering protein to your forage or other sources.

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            So, first, you look at your forage available and match up the protein, and then we have about three different levels or four different levels of mineral fortification. We have an economy line that's not a full 100% of the beef NRC mineral fortification (recommendations). We realize that some producers may be feeding some other feeds or free-choice mineral with the tubs. In that case, you don’t need a fully fortified block from us.

            So, we have an economy line. We have a balanced line, which is delivering 100% of beef NRC minerals. (We have a) premium line, which is kind of focused on some of the stress situations, (and for) the breeding season, (there’s) our Breed-Up® line, and then we have the Blueprint line, which I mentioned earlier, which has a lot of different products that fit most forage quality needs.

            However, our mineral profile is 100% chelated Bioplex® minerals. We’re taking out all the inorganics. And it’s actually a situation where you get more if it’s less. We’re feeding less mineral, but it’s more bioavailable. And as I mentioned before, we’re really seeing some very impressive improvements in animal performance, health, reproductive (health) and calf weight gain with that Blueprint technology.

Tom:    All right. That’s Tim Clark, Eastern region sales manager with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements. Thanks for joining us, Tim.

Tim:     You bet.