Beef cattle production in Arkansas, like other states in the Southeast, is predominately recognized as cow-calf. Yet, many calves remain in Arkansas or calves originating from other southeastern states are assembled in Arkansas for post-weaning development before placement in a finishing yard. This growing phase for fall-weaned calves usually fits one of three scenarios: developed on overseeded pasture with 1-1.5 percent body weight delivered feed, developed on hay and 1-1.5 percent body weight delivered feed or grown on annuals used for cover crops in crop management. Despite the vast amount of farm land, the last scenario is rare, and with early field preparation of acreage planted to grains, some consider the number of grazing days not practical.
The two primary scenarios involve at least 1 percent of the calf’s diet being consumed in a trough. Coupled with drought the past two years, the portion of the diet that is typically pasture or grass hay has been substituted with crop residues and gin trash. With corn futures lingering between $6 and $8, the emphasis has been to keep the cost per ton of feed as cheap as possible. However, there are tradeoffs between the cost of the diet, calf performance and target market weights. Therefore, understanding the difference between cost of feed and cost of gain is necessary to maintain profitability in this segment of the beef industry.
Value of Gain
The graph below shows a current trend for sale price (left axis – red line) and gross income (right axis – blue line). The demand for heavy calves has been strong, improving the value of gain on grass. But, those that don’t have pasture are trying to capture the value in additional weight with roughage (hay, baled crop residue, gin trash) and byproduct feeds.
Cost of Feed
Cost of feed per ton is managed by adjusting the ratio of low-cost feed ingredients to high-cost feed ingredients. The following table demonstrates this point where a 70 percent roughage diet will cost $153/ton and a 30 percent roughage diet, $227/ton as-fed.
This ration is for example purposes only and does not consider trace mineral and vitamin requirements.
Average Daily Gain
Generally speaking, the average daily gain of cattle would be less on a high roughage diet compared to a low roughage diet. The high roughage diet example provides sufficient calories for 1 lb/day gain; whereas, the low roughage diet example provides enough calories for 2.5 lb/day gain.