The number one cost for beef cow-calf producers is feed, more specifically, mechanically harvested winter feed. Estimating the amount of forage that will be needed and then matching that with the amount of feed identified in a feed inventory will help cow-calf producers avoid running out of feed. Determining how much feed will be needed and the current feed inventory, will allow producers to decide if there will be feed shortage problems. If feed resources do not match feed requirements, producers will need to decide if they are going to  reduce animal numbers or purchase additional feed resources. Now is the time to make those calculations. One very easy to use tool is the Winter Feed Estimator, from the University of Florida.

The Winter Feed Estimator is a very quick and easy way to determine how much feed is needed for the herd. The dry matter requirements will be based on frame size, and number of weeks a producer plans to feed. Knowing the frame size, is critical to accurately estimate the amount of dry matter (DM) required. The amount of time that the animals will be fed is also critical, the less time you feed stored feeds, the lower your costs will be, thus the more money you will be making. Utilizing practices to  extend the grazing season, and utilize crop residues, are excellent opportunities to reduce the quantity of stored feed required for winter feeding.

There are four steps involved in using the Winter Feed Estimator:

1. Determine the frame size
2. Determine the number of cattle that are going to be fed
3. Estimate the required weeks cattle will be fed
4. Convert dry matter tons, to bales of dry hay, baleage or other feed sources.

Dry matter requirements are based on 2.5 percent of mature body weight; frame sizes are as follows: small frame cattle will weigh between 950-1,050 pounds, medium frame cattle will weigh between 1,100-1,200 pounds and larger frame cattle will weigh between 1,250-1,350 pounds. For example, a 1,200 pound cow would fall into the medium frame category, and her daily DM intake would be (1,200 x 0.025 = 30) 30 pounds of dry matter per day. Next, it is necessary to convert the DM figure, to an as fed figure, that is done by dividing the amount of DM, by the percentage of DM in the stored feed. An example of this is: (30/0.85 = 35.2) so, the cow would need to consume approximately 35 pounds of hay (15 percent moisture) per day. The Winter Feed Estimator helps producers make these conversions. Producers will find that they may need to run through this exercise several times to come up with different scenarios depending upon the number of cows that will be kept and the amount of time that they will be fed.

It is important to note that it would not be feasible to consider and cover all of the scenarios that can account for the variability in forages. Nutrient value of the forages can vary greatly. The Winter Feed Estimator assumes that the forages will be adequate to meet the nutritional needs of the cattle. Michigan State University Extension recommends performing a forage analysis to determine  nutrient content and moisture level. Storage and feeding methods also play an important role in feeding the cow herd.