One of our focuses when consulting with cooperators is to identify areas where we can help them save money. Since this time of year is when most cow-calf producers in our area begin to implement a supplemental feeding program, I thought that I would share with you a few cow feeding tips that should reduce labor, reduce feed costs or increase cow response to feeding.
Feed hay in a ring or feeder, because hay fed free choice with no ring or feeder is wasteful. In fact, a University of Missouri study conducted in 1973 by Bell and Maertz found that cattle wasted only 9 percent of the large round bales fed in a hay feeder as compared to 45 percent of those fed without a feeder of any kind. Hypothetically, let's say you feed hay to 100 cows for a 100-day period (assuming 25 lbs./hd./day consumption). By not using a hay ring, you would be wasting approximately 45 tons of hay over the feeding period.
Another tip is when feeding high-protein cubes (37 to 41 percent all-natural crude protein) to dry cows grazing dormant pasture, consider feeding every second or third day. For example, if you are feeding 1.0 lbs./hd./day consider feeding 2 lbs./hd./day every other day or 3 lbs./hd./every third day. A recent article from Oregon State University by D.W. Bohnert, C.S. Schauer and T. Del Cuto stated, "Infrequent supplementation (as infrequently as once every six days) of rumen degradable and undegradeable intake protein to ruminants consuming low-quality forage (< 6 percent crude protein) results in nitrogen efficiency and animal performance that is similar to that of daily supplemented individuals. Ruminants may have the ability to conserve nitrogen over extended periods, thereby sustaining nitrogen efficiency between periods of supplementation." In layman's terms, research is showing that cows may be able to go almost a week between particularly formulated protein supplementation. From a practical standpoint, feeding protein supplementation every two to three days offers a very realistic opportunity to save expenses associated with labor. Remember that this method will only work when we are feeding to meet a small protein deficiency (0.5-1.0 lbs./day of actual protein or less) using a high-protein source (37 percent crude protein or higher) in dry cows.
With the relatively low cost of alfalfa hay, many producers are choosing to use it as a protein supplement. If you elect to do this, remember it is a supplement, not a substitute. If you provide a cow with 10 lbs./hd./day of good-quality alfalfa, she will eat it. The question is, does she need that much? If she is a dry cow in good body condition with access to dormant native grass, bermudagrass or average-quality hay, chances are she needs far less than 10 lbs./hd./day. In fact, if we assume good quality alfalfa (18 to 20 percent CP and TDN in excess of 58 percent) this dry cow may only need 2.5-3 lbs./hd./day.
The most critical thing you can do is have a nutrient analysis conducted on your alfalfa. By determining the amount of protein your alfalfa contains with a nutrient analysis, the amount of alfalfa to feed each day to meet the cowherd's nutrient requirements can be determined. This could be as low as 2 pounds when feeding high-quality alfalfa to as much as 10 pounds or more when using low-quality alfalfa. Avoid the "spoiled cow syndrome" — only provide them with what they need and don't let them manipulate you into feeding them more.
Increase the amount of feed if weather conditions warrant it. In the January 2003 edition of NF Ag News and Views, Clay Wright wrote an article entitled, "How Will Cold Fronts Affect Your Cowherd's Energy Requirements?" http://www.noble.org/ag/livestock/coldweatherenergy/. This article illustrated how to calculate the increased energy needs of your cowherd during severe weather conditions. Use this article to determine when to increase the feeding rate of your cowherd.
These suggestions should help you to be a more economically viable cow-calf producer by saving you money and or increasing cow performance.