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Dollars & Common Sense

Posted Feb. 1, 1998

A timely, costly, and many times mismanaged topic is winter feeding. I continually meet producers that have not heard of feeding their cows three days a week. Others have heard of it, but do not think it will work for them.

Feeding trials have shown that there is no detriment to feeding cows three days a week instead of seven. Following are two of the more common reasons/excuses that I encounter.

"I need to see my cows."

Why? Are they calving from November 1 to April 30? What you may need is a shorter breeding season. There are other economic advantages to a controlled breeding season, but we will save those for another article.

"My cows are used to me being there everyday."

Cows are creatures of habit. Their actions are a direct result of your management practices. Daily feeding results in cows that await their daily subsidy. Cows are meant to graze - not stand around waiting on their next bite. Your winter feeding practices should complement your grass base, not take the place of it or inhibit your cows from consuming it.

This brings up the topic of "feed grounds", another of my personal pet peeves. Yes, they will be there every day and they bring their calves with them - straight to the most unsanitary place in the pasture. And you wonder why your calves have scour and pneumonia problems. Feeding on the ground in a different place each day may not cure both of these problems, but it will certainly help.

Feeding three days versus seven days a week has other advantages. It will decrease the mileage you put on your pickup by about 50 percent.

You should have at least half of each weekday and your weekends free. If you feed half of your herd Monday-Wednesday-Friday and the other half Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, you will have half of each day and all of Sunday free. Think of all the "honey do" chores you will have time for!

The economic advantage of feeding three days a week will depend on your current winter supplementation program. There are other winter feeding practices (hay feeding, grazing programs, sorting your cows by condition, age, stage of pregnancy) that can save you money, benefit your cow herd, and make your life easier. I, along with one of our Livestock Specialists, would be more than happy to discuss the logistics and economic ramifications of different winter supplementation programs.

This may be the most number-free economics column written yet. I have been told that "Economics is common sense made difficult". I hope this is not the case with my writings. Questions and/or comments are welcome.

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