Keeping cattle well-fed during the cold, winter months can be the most costly time of the year. This year, producers in various parts of the country are facing unique challenges with drought, wildfires and flooding from hurricanes negatively impacting forage growth.
Fortunately, grain prices continue to remain low heading into the heart of fall, which offers more options. Bob Utterback, president and owner of Utterback Marketing, advises cattle producers to contract grain purchases as soon as possible.
“I think we are in the optimum seasonal time period for a feed buyer to start accumulating aggressive inventories,” Utterback says. He expects similar grain market conditions compared with 2016, barring a significant weather event in the global market. More risk will likely exist in the May, June and July futures markets. (For more tips from Utterback, visit www.Drovers.com/feed-buying)
In corn country, grazing stalks can be an affordable option to winter cattle. As a general rule of thumb, a corn field that produces 150 bu. per acre can handle a stocking rate of one cow per acre for 30 days, says Travis Meteer, beef cattle specialist and nutritionist with University of Illinois Extension.
“I challenge producers to continuously monitor the cattle, their behavior and the amount of husk and leaf left in the field. Once the majority of the husk is gone, the feed value is relatively poor,” Meteer says.
The average rental rate for cornstalks is 25¢ per head per day. That rate can vary depending on fencing, access to water and length of the grazing season. However, corn growers might welcome the extra income this year, making negotiations favorable to a grazer.
“As long as you can get fence and water to the field there really is no reason not to graze cornstalks,” he says.
When grazing cornstalks Meteer advises limiting the amount of supplemental feed for gestating, spring calving cows. Fall calving cows or stockers will probably need to be supplemented with distillers’ grains or corn fed in bunks. Liquid protein tubs are an option as well.
“Facilities dictate the feeding regimen for how a lot of cows get fed,” Meteer adds.
For example, the average cow-calf producer, with 50 head or fewer, will likely feed grain in bunks and hay in round bale rings. They don’t have access to a mixer wagon to produce a total mixed ration.
Since hay quality can vary, Meteer suggests testing the nutritional quality. Most grass hay will average 12% to 15% crude protein, so cows will need additional energy, which is where corn comes into the ration.
“You can only feed so much corn to a cow without having negative associative effects on fiber digestion,” Meteer says. No more than 5 lb. to 6 lb. of corn should be fed per cow per day.
Balance the ration for total digestible nutrients (TDN), net energy for maintenance (NEm) or net energy for lactation (NEl) based on the results of the hay test.
For more on grain buying advice read the following story: