The struggle for sourcing feed continues as cattle producers evaluate current and future feeding options. Even though the culling is deep, there still are cows left to feed, so now is the time to call a good beef cattle nutritionist.
The market is redefining "least cost" feedstuffs, so producers must review all the options when purchasing feed. The nutrient value of feed is what drives value and performance. However, knowing when and how to feed also is important.
I am reminded of a case where the producer struggled with lower-quality grass hay during calving because he fed the higher-quality hay during midgestation.
The producer did not understand the different cattle nutritional requirements at different stages of life and when to feed the lower-quality versus the higher- quality feed. Such misallocation of feed inventories can be financially fatal, especially when all feedstuffs are overpriced.
So, this is a good time to go see the doctor. When I visited with Chip Poland, chair of the Dickinson State University Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies and a well-educated beef cattle nutritionist, the first thing Poland noted was to encourage producers to default back to the basics.
"We feed nutrients, not pounds, which is a tough concept to get across because we physically see pounds," Chip says. He went on to note, after a few local phone calls, that producers are paying $6.88 to $8 per bushel of corn from other producers. However, local elevators are buying corn in southwestern North Dakota at prices ranging from $7.60 to $8.50 per bushel (late July). What this means is that cattle producers can buy corn at the local elevator, but pay a price markup.
For example, one local elevator was buying corn at $7.20 per bushel, but selling corn at $7.94 per bushel. This particular price quote equates to approximately 18 cents per pound of total digestible nutrients (TDN) for corn being purchased by the producer.
In comparison, mixed grass hay at $100 per ton, plus $25 per ton transportation costs, (20-ton loads, approximately 100-mile haul), would be priced at roughly 13 cents per pound of TDN. If the same hay was $150 per ton, plus $25 shipping, the price per pound of TDN would be just less than 18 cents per pound of TDN.
Interestingly, 55 percent TDN mixed grass hay at 90 percent dry matter competes with corn in these higher-priced corn markets. Likewise, if a producer purchases $200-per-ton alfalfa hay, plus pays the same $25 shipping at 60 percent TDN and 90 percent dry matter, the cost would be just more than 20 cents per pound of TDN.