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Planning Your Winter Feeding Program for Profitability

By Robert Wells, Ph.D.
Livestock Consultant

Posted Nov. 1, 2010

How would you like to save $15 per cow on your winter feeding bill? What if I told you it could easily be done by making one timely change in what you are feeding your cows grazing on native grass pasture? Many people only buy one feed type during the winter. This mindset may be costing a 50-cow herd the equivalent of the value of a $750 calf.

If you do a good job managing your native pastures and are properly stocked, then you should not be feeding supplemental hay, and the pasture will come very close to meeting the cow's requirements most of the year. The feeding scenario developed below will only be valid if the cows have ample, good quality pasture ahead of them and are never limited.

With these assumptions, you can then develop a cost effective winter feeding program. In this example, I will only compare the cost of feeding two common feed types: 20 percent or 38 percent crude protein range cubes. Figure 1 illustrates that good quality native grass pastures will meet a spring calving (March 15-May 15 calving season) cow's requirement for protein until November and energy until January.

Figure 1.

In November and December, the cow only needs additional supplemental protein in her diet so she should be fed a high protein supplement. In January and February, the cow needs additional supplemental energy in the diet, but still needs more protein, so you should keep her on a high protein supplement. During her last month of gestation, March, the cow's energy requirements now exceed her protein requirements. This is when it pays to switch the type of supplemental feed to a lower protein/higher energy feed.

Table 1.

Table 1 demonstrates the required amount of feed and the cost of feeding a cow the two types of range cubes on a monthly basis along with the yearly total cost. The cost of feeding the high protein feed in March is over 50 percent that of feeding the lower protein/higher energy feed. The last line of the table lists a winter feed cost of $61.14 if a switch in feed types occurs during the last month of the cow's gestation. The difference in feed cost savings is between $13.64 and $15.05 depending on if you were to only feed the 38 or 20 percent range cubes all year long.

This is an example of what can be done with a planned winter feeding program. Additional money may be saved by looking at other feed sources such as alfalfa hay or commodity byproducts. To avoid any potential feeding problems, remember to consult with a nutritionist before starting any feeding program.