Cattle feeding: What's in the bag?

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The fall has dropped upon the Commonwealth like a lead balloon dropped from a 10 story building. Seems like this time of year we always see these drastic weather condition swings and it takes time to adjust the colder temperatures. This is also a time that we see recently weaned calves break with respiratory disease as the daytime high and low's can be 30 degree swings. This time of the year also is when many cattlemen begin buying feed to supplement weaned calves, replacement heifers, and cows. Which feed should I buy and how much should I feed often become the topics of discussion this time of year.

In our area, we have companies that sell their regular beef feed product lines as well as common coproduct feeds such as soybean hulls and corn gluten feed. There have been a few companies that have made a business of handling only coproduct feedstuffs and marketing them as blended feeds. With the high grain prices, producers usually search for less expensive supplement alternatives. As beef producers, we can sometimes be our own worst enemy. As an example, you have had success with a feed that you purchase from your feed salesman but it is getting expensive. So, you ask the feed salesman for a feed that is $25 less per ton because you just can't see coughing up that kind of money for feed. Well, the feed salesman says he does have a feed that is a 14% complete feed in your price range and you jump on it.

What made that feed $25 less than the other? Perhaps this is a larger dealer that can take advantage of bulk purchasing of feedstuffs and procures commodities at a greatly reduced price. This is certainly a possibility and can't be discarded. The next step in determining to why this feed is less costly may or may not be told by the feed tag. Perhaps the feed is medicated and contains a feed additive such as an ionophore or antibiotic. This would be clearly stated at the top of the feed tag.

If both feeds are similar in that they both contain the feed additive at the same level, the next thing to consider is what is actually in the feed. This includes both the guaranteed nutrient analysis and also the ingredients listed. First, compare the nutrients listed and see if they differ in protein form. Urea is the cheapest source of crude protein and 10-15% of non-protein nitrogen is common in feeds for growing cattle. Next compare the level of crude protein, fat and fiber. Higher crude protein feeds often have a higher price tag.

Assuming the two feeds are similar in nutrient content, the next step is the ingredient list. Feed tags list the ingredients in order from greatest inclusion levels to the least. Feeds with soybean meal, oats, corn or other grains will likely be priced higher as these commodities are often more expensive. But what if one of the tags reads as follows: Processed Grain Byproducts, Roughage Products, Grain Products and then a listing of various minerals. Can you tell if this feed contains soybean hulls, corn gluten feed, or dried distillers grains? No, the use of collective terms prevents one from knowing what feedstuffs may be in a product. This is important to understand as it applies to our two feeds that we are comparing.

Soybean hulls has a book value of 77% TDN and 12% crude protein while rice hulls is listed at 13% TDN and 3% crude protein (2012 BEEF magazine Feed Composition Tables). Recall that TDN stands for Total Digestible Nutrients and is an estimate of the available energy from a feedstuff. Both of these feedstuffs fall under the collective term of roughage product. Clearly, a large difference in feeding quality exists between these two feedstuffs. The wholesale price at the processing plant in Arkansas for rice hulls was $30/ton while soybean hulls were $200-$225/ton as reported by the University of Missouri for October 28, 2012. This could very well be a method for lowering the price of a coproduct blended feed. There is no listing on a feed tag of the energy, TDN or NEg. Therefore, it can be difficult to fully compare two feeds.

When you are looking at buying feeds and you come across a deal too good to be true, it probably is. Ask the feed salesman what is in the feed. They likely won't tell you the percentages of the various ingredients, but they should at least be willing to tell you if a product has a certain feedstuff such as peanut hulls, distillers grains, etc. . . Be better informed when making these decisions today and be sure to get the best value which does not necessarily mean the lowest price. Have a nice fall and happy feed shopping.

Source: Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, Extension Beef Specialist, University of Kentucky


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