Higher Feed Prices Pose Problems for Cattlemen

Dried distiller's grains mixed with corn silage
Dried distiller's grains mixed with corn silage

With corn prices increasing more than $1 per bushel since last summer, cattle producers are seeking feed alternatives.

While many feed alternatives are available, producers need to consider multiple factors, according to North Dakota State University Extension specialists. Dry matter, protein and energy contents, as well as freight costs, are among them.

“Corn sets the price of energy for alternative feeds,” says Karl Hoppe, Extension livestock systems specialist at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center. “As corn prices increase, this drives up the price of other feeds.”

Soybean prices also have risen rapidly since last summer.

“When the soybean meal price increases, then the price of competing protein feeds increases correspondingly,” Hoppe says.

Other North Dakota-produced protein feeds include canola meal, sunflower meal and linseed meal.

Distillers grains are unique in that the price of this byproduct of ethanol production is usually priced relative to the corn market. However, with high corn prices and low gasoline prices, distillers grains prices have increased in line with protein markets.

Pulse crops - field peas, chickpeas and lentils - are high in protein (22% to 27%) and contain energy content similar to other feed grains. These legume seeds can be used as a replacement for other protein and energy feeds in cattle rations. Cooler weather in North Dakota is favorable for pulse crop production.

Field peas previously were priced for human food markets. Presently, field pea prices are competitive as cattle feed because corn and soybean prices have risen substantially.

Other options are limited with high priced feeds.

“If feed prices remain high and slaughter cattle prices don’t increase, the only other option is for the feeder calf price to decrease,” says Tim Petry, Extension livestock economist.

Roughly, for every 10 cents per bushel price increase in corn, the price for feeder cattle decreases $1 per hundredweight.

Freight costs need to be included in alterative feed or coproducts prices. With long distances from coproduct plants to feed yards or cow herds, feed prices can increase $15 to $30 per ton rather quickly due to freight costs. High-moisture feeds with water content greater than 50% cannot be hauled very far without freight costs making the feeds not competitively priced.

Grain screenings also have increased in price due to more demand and higher grain prices. Hoppe warns that feeders should be careful about purchasing grain screenings, however, because they could contain noxious weeds.

He advises producers to grind the feeds finely or not purchase grain screenings to avoid weed infestations. Only a few unwanted weed seeds can lead to a big problem in a few years.

Alternative high-fiber feeds such as soy hulls and wheat midds have increased in price as well.

This was a good year to contract feed supplies during the summer, when prices were lower, Petry says.

“We get complacent about purchasing feeds until we need them,” he adds. “This year’s unanticipated rise in feed prices reminds us that grain prices can change quickly as worldwide supply and demand conditions change.”

For more information, visit NDSU Extension's "Alternative Feeds for Ruminants" publication  at https://tinyurl.com/AlternativeRuminantFeeds.


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