Beef cow-calf producers have seen a drastic increase in the prices they receive for cattle over the last 10 years. Unfortunately, the cost of production has risen at a comparable rate over this same time frame. Cost of fuel, fertilizer, machinery and drought have driven feed production costs to levels, offsetting profit. Critical cost of production analysis can give producers an opportunity to find expenses that can be reduced.
Pasture rates should be evaluated. The cost of renting pasture has risen across much of the Midwest due to pressure from grain and forage production. As cost of pasture increases, the need to intensively manage those acres increases. Utilizing management intensive grazing practices is an important aspect of increasing productivity of those acres. Better grazing practices will improve quality of the forage and increase yield. Cows will gain condition and weight, which can lead to better pregnancy conception rates and put cows in position to allow for marginal forages to be fed through the winter months. Better pastures allow better calf gains and higher gross sales.
In various locations of the country, rental rates have not been pressured to the same extent. In these situations, pasture yield can be increased by renting more acres. Practices, such as fertilization, should be evaluated to determine cost effectiveness. If pasture costs are at a premium, increasing productivity is important. In areas where pasture acres are readily available and not overly expensive, simply renting more acres may be a more economical decision.
Decreasing hay production by extending the grazing season can have major impact on the cost of feeding the cow herd. As a Michigan State University Extension ruminant educator, I have worked with producers across the Midwest who continually implement production practices that allow cattle to graze farther into the winter and earlier in the spring. Even in the northern regions across Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, some producers are feeding stored feeds for as little as 120-135 days. Planting crops for grazing into the fall, winter and spring can greatly shorten the feeding period of stored feeds such as: Brassicas or corn planted after harvest of small grains; Winter rye or other cereal grains planted after soybeans or corn silage for late fall and early spring grazing; Planting corn for later gazing during the winter months allows for high quality forage consumption, even with significant snow cover. Grazing planted crops is best accomplished with strip grazing to limit access and improve grazing efficiency.