Evaluating Feed and Feeding Cost

CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements

In many areas, the cow calf producer is about to enter the more expensive time of the production cycle for feeding the cow herd; hay feeding season. Pasture cost is the biggest expense for most operations, but the cow does the harvesting and the pasture payment often is not an out-of-pocket item that hits the check book all at once. Hay feeding is necessary but it is one of those activities that has several hidden costs. First, you have invested time, equipment and fuel in baling, storing and then delivering the hay to the cows. 

There are several university extension programs that publish beef cow calf budgets. These provide a good guideline for looking at cost and providing some general benchmarks. The University of Nebraska 2017 Cow Calf budget was used to generate the chart below which summarizes cost on a percentage bases. Specific for this example, grazing crop residue (18%) and feeding hay (21%) accounted for 39% of the feed cost. You can access the budget here.


The hidden cost of labor, equipment and fuel is difficult to assign to a specific area. In most budgets, they are often a separate item of the total cost and not assigned to feed. That is the case for the Nebraska budget above. The third column of the chart looks at feed cost with labor, equipment and fuel included in feed cost. In reality, the majority of equipment and labor is related to feeding the cattle. We could argue all day on exact percentages but if we assign these to feed cost it can be an eye opener of an opportunity to lower total cost. Including labor, equipment and fuel in feed cost shows that physically feeding the feed can be as expensive as the hay itself. A hand fed protein supplement that requires extra equipment and daily handling can be very expensive and may make labor more than 17% of the total. Part of controlling feed cost is keeping delivery and handling costs low. 

Feeding the Rumen versus Feeding the Cow

We want to make sure a supplement program is giving us the desired benefit and best return. When feeding crop residue and lower quality hay the most limiting nutrient is protein followed by carbohydrate. This limitation is for the rumen and not the cow. Supplement protein will enhance fiber digestion and the combination of the protein delivery with the dehydrated molasses solids provides a synergistic benefit to rumen fiber digesting bacteria. A common mistake is to consider the cow’s energy requirement instead of maximizing rumen fermentation which is driven by carbohydrate and protein. If only considering calories for the cow, corn may look like a good option. The rumen generates energy in the form of fermentation acids. Corn is a starch rich feed and relatively low in protein. If we use corn we run the risk of depressing fermentation by over feeding starch, dropping rumen pH, which will inhibit fiber digesting bacteria and rumen function in general, with the net result of less energy and protein production.


Gaining Synergies

An investment in protein supplements is really a way to get more out of your largest cost area; your hay and forage investment. A self-fed supplement program can shift the cost percentages in a synergistic fashion. Keeping the cost to feed low is important, consider the labor and equipment saving discussed above. The other synergy we can gain is improving forage digestibility and needing less forage to maintain the cows. This one gets confusing at times, since research and field experience show that with proper supplementation the cows are able to consume more low quality forage due to the better digestibility. However, cows eat to their energy needs and we use less forage over time. CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements provide the needed mineral and vitamins for another synergy; consistent, daily mineral delivery in a water, wind and waste proof package. The combination of lower labor and fuel cost, enhanced digestibility and mineral delivery is part of the value of a CRYSTALYX® program. Taking all these into consideration makes CRYSTALYX® an attractive low-cost supplement program.