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Winter Feed Costs

Posted Mar. 1, 1998

Have you finished your winter feeding? If you haven't you should be getting close. As this winter comes to an end, have you considered what it cost you to feed your cows this winter? In most operations, the highest annual cost per cow is for feed.

As you reflect on your expenditures for the 1997-98 feeding period, let me suggest to you that it's not too early to plan for next winter. As you analyze your individual expenses for supplements (20% and 38% cubes) and hay, let me remind you that early planning can be the difference between a profit or a loss for the cowcalf producer.

Because accumulation of winter feed begins as early as your first cutting of hay this spring, or your first purchase of hay from the neighbor, management plans for winter feed should be done early in the year. One of your most important management activities this spring could be looking at ways to reduce the overall cost of your winter feeds.

What I mean by this is that many times producers use poor quality hay and offset that hay quality with high priced protein supplement, so their feed costs end up higher than if they would have produced or bought a higher quality hay.

To demonstrate the importance of quality hay, I have included a chart that depicts the economic importance of quality hay on a per bale basis. Increased quality could come from more timely harvest of your own hay or by the individual from whom you are buying hay.

Down the left side of the chart is the value per 1000 lb bale from an increase in protein valued at $210 per ton. Across the top of the chart is the increase in value per bale due to increased total digestible nutrients (TDN) using a $2.80 per bushel price for corn.

You can see from this chart the economic advantages of producing a quality forage for your cows. If your profits as a cow-calf producer were $30-50 per cow and you were feeding 2 tons (four bales) per winter, it might be possible to double your profit if the hay was 10% protein instead of 4% protein.

So when you analyze your costs, take time to look at all of your alternatives for feed. Have your hay tested, so that you know what you are feeding. Then work to provide your animals with only what they need at the lowest possible price. If we can help you analyze your feed costs, please give us a call.