The world of costs is not really that complicated, but often it is overlooked.
Although it is true that feed must be edible, free of digestive problems and compatible with the beef cow, that still leaves a large selection of alternative feedstuffs. Regardless of what one is feeding, the first step is figuring cost per unit of desired nutrients.
In very simplistic feeding terms, the world of the beef cow is somewhere between green and yellow. If you were told to eat all your vegetables as a youngster, the reasoning for it was simple: Vegetables contain nutrients that are needed to sustain a healthy state of living.
Likewise, a cow is more likely to sustain a healthy state of living when the feed she consumes is a mixture of green and yellow feeds. Feeding all corn without greens is not good. Feeding all straw or grain byproducts with no greens is not good. Feeding all second-cutting alfalfa with no yellows is not good.
Feeding all brown, overly mature grass hay with no green hay is not good.
A mixture of green grass with yellow corn could work. A mixture of older, yellow-looking hay with first-cutting alfalfa could work. A mixture of straw or grain byproducts with green leafy grass hay could work.
In all cases, an appropriate supplementation of minerals and vitamins is recommended.
These are basic thoughts that need to be evaluated as one reviews options during feed shortages. In most cattle operations, the most expensive variable expense is feed. If a producer accounts for feed waste all the way through harvest, processing, delivery and cleaning, the actual cost per unit of feed can be calculated. Those costs often are hidden in the busyness of ranching and farming. However, writing checks as feed is purchased brings the message home quickly.
Today, producers need to buy feed.
The first lesson is a simple one, but we may need to have our memories jarred loose to recall lessons we learned in math class. How does one convert prices to a common unit so prices can be compared?
I visited with Chip Poland, Dickinson State University's Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies chair, to talk about how he priced corn.
His example: One local elevator was selling corn at $7.94 per bushel as is. So how much did the corn cost per unit of total digestible nutrients (TDN) or cost per unit of protein? Even if a producer does not have the actual analysis, feed tables certainly would provide adequate numbers to answer the question. Typical values in a table never are the actual numbers from an analysis, but the concept of pricing per unit of desired nutrient still is valid.