In many parts of the country, ranchers entered the winter facing drought conditions and depleted pastures. Even if autumn rains or early snow helped replenish their soil moisture, poor forage production during the growing season created widespread shortages of winter feed, either baled or standing in pastures.

Colorado State University Extension Beef Specialist Jack Whittier says ranchers facing these shortages have several options:

  • Sell some cows-something most would prefer not to do, especially with high calf prices projected for the next few years.
  • Truck in hay but high prices in many areas make this hard to justify.
  • Winter cows on corn stalks in corn production areas, but unless they locked in a price early, they'll likely find that high demand has driven rates up.
  • Take advantage of a variety of non-traditional or byproduct feeds, depending on what is available in their area.

Byproduct or non-traditional feeds can provide a cost-effective alternative to high-priced hay, Dr. Whittier says. These can include brewers grains, corn hominy, wheat midds, sunflower products, bakery waste products, cull beans, beet pulp, distillers grains, corn gluten feed, cull vegetables, cottonseed and others.

Dr. Whittier notes, however, that producers should consider several factors in evaluating the potential for feeding these products to their cows:

  • Can you handle the delivery, storage and feeding of the commodity? Some require special storage or must be fed from a bunk. Most byproducts come in semi-load quantities, so you'll need to calculate how much you can use and how much you can store.
  • There often is inconsistency between sources and loads of byproduct feeds. You probably should have byproduct feeds analyzed for nutritional content rather than rely on book values.
  • Mineral levels can be higher in some byproducts than in conventional feeds. Corn gluten feed, for example, can contain twice the level of sulfur as corn grain. Higher levels of individual minerals can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the situation, and producers might need to adjust their supplements based on mineral content of byproduct feeds.
  • Can you locate a supply of byproduct feeds? Because they are more likely to use byproduct feeds regularly, local dairy or feedyard operators might be able to offer advice on good sources. A commodity broker, Dr. Whittier says, also can assist in locating supplies, scheduling deliveries and advising ranchers interested in using byproducts.

To compare the costs and relative value of various feed ingredients, Dr. Whittier recommends a spreadsheet developed by the University of Missouri called FEEDVAL. Producers can download the spreadsheet over the Internet from either the University of Missouri or Colorado State University using these addresses:

The FEEDVAL spreadsheet allows the user to compare the relative value of various feed ingredients, such as byproducts, with a standard feed such as alfalfa hay. Using the local price for typical ration ingredients such as alfalfa hay, cracked corn and protein supplement, users can calculate how much they can afford to pay for alternative feeds to achieve the same nutrient value and decide if byproduct feeding is the right move.