From the October issue: Information void on some cow-calf operations provides opportunity for practitioners with nutritional training.

With the variable prices of feedstuffs used in beef rations, along with the increasing availability of byproduct feeds, now is the time for veterinarians to become more involved in nutrition consultation with their beef clients. Research by Miller and Knipe from Illinois showed that when comparing profitability of beef herds, 56.7 percent of the variation in profit was due to one single thing: nutrition cost per cow per year.

Many cow-calf producers, particularly those with smaller herds, never consult with a nutritionist in designing their rations or feeding programs. The veterinarian, in these cases, often is the only professional consultant familiar with the operation, its resources and management practices. With the proper training in animal nutrition, veterinarians potentially can add value to their on-farm services and enhance their clients’ profitability by helping them adopt a more cost-effective nutrition program.

Herds that use full-feed hay during the winter are never feeding the most cost-effective ration, unless the majority of their hay is free. I have only seen that once in 31 years of practice. To “whet your appetite” about beef nutrition consultation, I’ve included some example prices and rations for beef cows during late gestation (Table 1).

These rations are not necessarily balanced for all vitamins, mineral and salt, but are used to give some examples of the money that can be saved if we set aside the tradition of full-feeding hay all winter long. In the examples I have noted the wastage factor used with the forage component of the ration. I have 20 percent wastage, which is likely a bit conservative based upon some Purdue work showing higher waste when providing unlimited access to the forage.

In the examples where other feedstuffs are utilized and the roughage portion is limited, I used 10 percent wastage. I stayed with 20 percent wastage when feeding cornstalk bales, no matter if it was full-fed or limited.

As you can see, the most expensive ration is the full-fed, dairy-quality alfalfa hay. The ration is 17 percent crude protein (CP) when the need is only 9.7 percent CP. The energy is 109 percent of need with 0.54 pounds-per-day gain when we only need a maintenance ration. So, should the farmer produce poorer quality hay with a lower value? Of course not, but why not sell it for $225 per ton to a dairyman and buy wet gluten. The gluten is $175 per ton of total digestible nutrients (TDN) on a dry-matter (DM) basis, while the alfalfa is $441 per ton of TDN on a DM basis (Table 2). That’s over twice the cost per unit of energy for the alfalfa. If we compare the protein content on the same basis, the alfalfa is $1,504 per ton DM while the gluten is $644 per ton. We need to change the mindset from “We produced it so we’re going to feed it” to “Can we utilize more economical sources of nutrition for the cow?”

What are the co-products’ role in beef diets? They have varied DM, high-energy levels, low starch and high fiber. Soybean hulls (SBH) average about 9 percent protein while corn gluten feed (CGF) and distillers’ grains with solubles (DGS) average 19 to 27 percent protein on a DM basis.

The three primary co-products used in the Midwest are CGF, DGS and SBH. We need to price them (and all feedstuffs) on a price per ton of TDN and CP on a DM basis. You can download a spreadsheet for calculating these prices by selecting “total beef herd health program” and then “beef spreadsheets” at mwbeefcattle.com.

A huge factor in pricing on a DM basis is the moisture content. Is dry gluten at $185 per ton a better buy or is the wet at $75 per ton? It depends on the moisture content of the wet product. Other factors such as transportation cost, storage losses and handling costs must also be examined.

CGF, for example, has a longer shelf life than DGS. If you can cover the product or allow a crust to form that limits oxygen, long-term storage is feasible. The product turns dark brown, but nutrient analysis confirms little loss of value and cows seem to eat the product readily.

For wet DGS, frequent delivery is the best option, but smaller producers can preserve its quality for several weeks by storing it in a covered bunker or an oxygen-limiting bag. Mixing wet DGS with 10 to 20 percent dry forage such as cornstalks or poor-quality hay can help preserve its quality until feeding. Utilize your Extension beef specialists or beef nutritionists for more details about storage of products to minimize losses.

In production medicine our goals are fourfold: reduce the cost of production (feeding alternative feeds can make a huge difference here), increase the value of the product the cattleman is producing, maintain or enhance animal health and welfare, and reduce the amount of labor in the enterprise.

While full-feeding hay may appear to be the least labor, when we consider mowing, raking, baling, moving storing, moving again to feed and hauling manure, the labor looks a little more time consuming.

A high-fiber, high-protein diet with little to no starch and significant amounts of co-products like CGF and DGS, can be fed to cows three times weekly and they will do fine. There is considerable research on this subject and we have producers doing this. They are uniformly pleased with the results and are happy to have reduced fuel cost and time spent feeding cows during the winter. As they get closer to calving time, the producers switch back to daily feeding so they can more closely monitor the cows.

SBH are another feed that has had considerable research on feeding to beef cows, and due to their high fiber content, they are a good choice to feed with a high-forage diet due to efficiency of digestion. Soyhulls are moderate to low in protein, and if fed with low-quality hay, they might not provide adequate protein, so an analysis of the hay and soyhulls needs to be done just like with all other co-products and forages.

While the co-products have many advantages for feeding the beef cow, they do have some negatives. First, both CGF and DGS are high in sulfur. For feedlot calves, we keep the total-ration sulfur to below 0.4 percent on a DM basis. If the farm has high sulfur in the water, this number needs to be even lower. Work at Iowa State has demonstrated that cows showed no adverse effects when the ration was at 0.5 percent total sulfur. Another negative is the high phosphorus (P) level of CGF and DGS. Calcium (Ca) needs to be added to balance the high P, and the Ca:P ratio of the ration should be above 1.2:1 for cows. In the feedlot we like to see a 2:1 ratio of Ca:P. Many companies make a co-product balancer product that contains large amounts of Ca, little or no P, along with other needed minerals and vitamins. Most are available with Rumensin, and the research proves the cost effectiveness of this product when feeding beef cows any grain or co-product. SBH are actually slightly low in P, so combining them with CGF or DGS would be a logical option.

I am sure you see considerable use of free choice “convenience feeds” in small herds. As you look at the table provided earlier on cost per ton of nutrients on a DM basis, the “protein tub” is the highest cost of protein on a DM basis. In fact, the one I researched was nearly seven times the cost of wet CGF on a DM basis for protein. Also, 1997 research in Montana showed a high percentage of cows do not consume supplements when fed free choice (Table 3).

In a herd, the average intake per cow may be correct, but if consumption is supposed to be 0.5 pounds per head per day, some cows are eating 2 pounds per day and some are eating none. I realize there are times when free choice is the only option, but if you are feeding the cow in a bunk, add everything (salt, mineral, vitamins) to the ration and make a total mixed ration (TMR).

While not an “alternative” feed, we need to examine how hay is fed. Round bales and large squares have reduced labor on beef farms, but the amount of hay wastage versus feeding small squares has increased dramatically. Research at Purdue showed high rates of hay disappearance when cows were fed ad lib versus limited amounts of hay (Table 4).

Why do we allow cows 24-hour access to hay when four hours gives the same result of gain with 37.2 percent less wastage? It makes no sense at all. In most cases when clients are feeding an all-hay diet, we recommend four to six hours access per day.

In another study at Purdue, researchers measured how time of access affected hay consumption (Table 5). If a client wants to feed an amount of hay less than full-feed along with another feedstuff such as a co-product, and does not have a TMR wagon, you can use this data to balance a ration. For example, it is very common for our producers to feed hay for two hours per day and then give 6 pounds of dry DGS per head per day. This gives a balanced ration and allows them to use hay rings and a simple bunk for the DGS.

There are numerous alternatives to full-feeding hay to the beef cow during the winter, and nearly all produce equal or better results at a lower cost. Your producers would like to hear from you about ways to accomplish these goals.

I would never suggest the veterinarian can replace a nutritionist, but for producers who operate with little or no input from a nutritionist, some relatively basic consultation could bring significant improvements. In addition to acquiring training in ruminant nutrition, practitioners engaged in nutrition consulting should work to develop a network of professional nutritionists to serve as resources when questions or problems fall outside the veterinarian’s nutritional knowledge.

See this article, and others on the Whisper electronic stethoscope system, veterinary feed directive and JHS in dairy cows in the October digital issue of Bovine Veterinarian.

 

Table 1

Amount fed

 lbs

 lbs

 lbs

 lbs

 lbs

 lbs

Ingredient

 

         

Alfalfa bales 2nd

41

 

 

 

 

 

Grass round bales 1st

 

 

24

 

 

12

Mix round bales 1st

 

20

 

 

 

 

Corn stalks

 

 

 

19

33

 

Wet gluten

 

26

 

27

17

 

Dry DGS

 

 

9

 

 

 

Corn

         

14

Protein with Rumensin

 

 

 

 

 

0.5

Gluten balancer Rumensin

0.6

0.6

0.6

0.6

0.6

 

             

% consumption

100

100

100

79

100

71

Net energy requirement

109

100

100

100

100

100

Projected ADG

0.54

 

 

 

 

 

% crude protein

17

14.3

14.9

12.3

9.3

10.2

% sulfur

 

0.23

0.32

0.28

0.2

 

% waste

20 

10

10

20

20

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cost/head/day

$ 5.59

$ 3.33

$ 2.41

$ 1.74

$ 1.75

$ 2.56

 

Feed prices per ton: Alfalfa hay, $225; mixed hay, $200; grass hay, $100; corn stalks, $55; wet corn gluten, $75; dry DGS, $210. Corn, $3.50 per bushel.

 

 

Table 2

 

 

 

 

 

price/ton

 

price/ton

Feedstuff

lb/unit

 $/unit

DM %

TDN %

TDN DM

CP%

CP DM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alfalfa, mid bloom

2000

$225.00

88

58

$440.83

17

$1,504.01

Corn, dry     

56

$3.50

85

90

$163.39

10

$1,470

Corn stalks   

2000

$55.00

75

51

$143.79

5.9

$1,242.94

Dry DGS

2000

$210.00

86.6

80.6

$300.86

27.4

$885.02

Dry corn gluten

2000

$185.00

88.93

79

$263.33

25.63

$811.66

Protein tub

2000

$900.00

97.76

75.02

$1,227.17

32.73

$2,812.78

Mix 30

2000

$197.00

43

100.56

$455.59

37.58

$1,219.10

Mixed grass hay

2000

$200.00

85

58

$405.68

9.1

$2,585.65

Soybean hulls

2000

$150.00

91

77

$214.07

9

$1,831.50

Wet corn gluten

2000

$75.00

52.2

82

$175.22

22.31

$644.01

Wet DGS

2000

$85.00

42

80

$252.98

19

$1,065.16

 

Table 3

Supplement form

% non-eaters

Blocks

14

Dry supplements

15

Liquid supplements

23

 

Table 4

 Access time

Hours/day

 

24

12

8

4

Wt. change, lb

+58

+58

+65

+49

Hay disappearance (% change)

100

 

(0)

95.6

 

(-4.4)

82.4

 

(-17.6)

62.8

 

(-37.2)

No statistical differences among rows for weight change

 

 

Table 5

 

 

Total amount eaten (lbs)

Amount eaten (lbs)/hour

1 hour

10

10

2 hours

17

8.5

4 hours

25

6