Inventory Stored Feeds

Currently, low hay supplies and overstocked pastures are commonplace in the Midwest. Limited forage availability is still a challenge for cattlemen. As a result, it is vital for cattle producers to inventory feeds. An inventory of what is on-farm will help producers budget purchased feeds.

Simply counting round bales, feet of silage bags, and carefully estimating remaining grazing days is a good place to start. While getting an accurate count of stored feeds is important, understanding how far the stored feeds will go is necessary.


A cow will eat 2.5% of her body weight in hay. That means a 1300 lb. cow will eat 32.5 lbs. of hay. When offered free choice, waste can be 25% or more. That means she will use ~40 lbs. of hay per day. A month of hay for that cow would be close to 1200 lbs... Thus, the old rule of thumb is one big round bale per cow per month.

Supplemental energy and protein

The amount of supplement required is directly linked to the quality of the forage. If you have stockpiled fescue to graze or good quality hay, then supplement needs may be fairly small. However, hay that is over-mature, baled late, or has been rained-on could need supplemented to meet cow requirements. It is always best to sample your hay and have it tested for a nutrient analysis.

Table 1 and 2 show the amount of corn or Dried Distillers Grains with Solubles (DDGS) needed to supply energy at maintenance requirement for a 1400 lb. cow with average milk production. It is assumed she is calving in the middle of the 150 day feeding period, eating 2% of her body weight in hay, and not in need of increased diet energy for cold stress, increased mud, or long distance to travel to water or feed.

Table 1. Amount of corn needed to meet maintenance energy requirement, per cow for 150 day feeding period


Corn, lbs. (as-is)







Table 2. Amount of DDGS needed to meet maintenance energy requirement, per cow for 150 day feeding period


DDGS supplement, lbs.







The tables show there can be quite a difference in additional supplementation needed to reach cow energy requirements only because of difference in hay quality. Using Table 2., the amount of DDGS needed for a 60 cow herd eating 54 TDN hay would be 35,700 lbs. The amount of DDGS needed for a 60 cow herd eating 46 TDN hay would be 55,140 lbs.

Very poor quality hay may cause lower intakes, which would result in more supplement needed. For example, if hay TDN is 46% and the cow only eats 1.5% of her BW, then the budget for DDGS needs to increase to 1384 lbs. per cow for the 150 day feeding period. That would equate to 83,040 lbs. of DDGS needed for a 60 cow herd. If your cows are thin or heavier in weight or do not have shelter then you will need to allocate more supplement for added energy requirements.

Remember, it is recommended that corn not be fed over 0.5% of a cow's body weight to avoid acidosis and negative associative effects. If hay is of such poor quality that cows will require over 0.5% of their body weight in supplement, a co-product or blend of fiber-based supplements should be used. Corn gluten feed, soybean hulls, distiller's grains, and wheat midds are likely candidates for a mix.


After you have a feed inventory, it is important to identify what feeds fit different stages of production. Utilize poor quality forages like cornstalks and rained-on hay when cows are at their lowest nutrient requirements (mid-gestation, dry). By simply matching your feeds with the nutrient requirements of the cow you can avoid paying for high priced supplement.

At the same time, save your good quality forages like your better hay and corn silage for closer to calving. These higher quality forages will offer more nutrition. They are also more palatable and thus higher intakes help achieve proper nutrient requirements.


Sometimes feed budgets are like hitting a moving target. Waste and shrink associated with the feeds that are being inventoried is often a hard number to predict. It is also a hard number to stomach. The wastes associated with hay can be quite large when stored outside and fed ad libitum. Shrink in grains, co-products and silages also needs considered. Shrink for grains should be around 2%, yet wet feeds and silages are generally around 10% shrink. Minimizing shrink should be a focus of the profit-minded cattlemen.


All in all, cow/calf producers need to be aware of their stored feed needs. As always, extending the time a cow spends grazing and harvesting her own feed will reduce costs. However, when the time comes to supply harvested feeds to meet the cow's nutrition requirements… producers need to be prepared. Take inventory, test forages, and make sure you have adequate supplies of the ingredients needed to formulate a balanced ration for your cowherd.