While feed efficiency is always important, it becomes even more so when grain prices are high.
Tackling higher feed bills requires a multi-faceted game plan, says Justin Waggoner, Extension beef specialist at Kansas State University.
The goal should be finding the least expensive energy source while making sure cattle are getting the nutrients they need, he says.
“You always want to be looking for opportunities to lower your costs,” he says. “Don’t get locked in to the conventional approach only. Be careful to avoid that mindset.”
In the Midwest, grain co-products are readily available for many producers. Waggoner says using a co-product requires careful examination before making any ration change.
Waggoner says technologies like implants can help boost feed conversion, which should result in some cost savings. Ionophores are another option, he says.
“You have to look at the cost and the benefit from using these technologies,” he says. “Get as much information as you can before making your decision.”
Beta agonists might also fit into a feeding program, says Dan Loy, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University and director of the Iowa Beef Center.
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“Their use isn’t very common yet, but with higher feed costs, it might be time to take a look,” he says. “Beta agonists can definitely improve feed conversion.”
Limit feeding might also be an option.
“You can set up a ration and target a performance level, then tailor the ration to fit what you’re wanting to do,” Waggoner says.
Good feed bunk management can also reduce costs, Loy says. Proper care of stored feed will also help.
“Look at things you can do to reduce waste,” he says. “How are you storing and feeding silage? How are you storing commodities? Would a commodity building be worth the expense?”
Hay is a valuable commodity as much of the Midwest has endured a lengthy drought. Loy says something like cornstalks could be used as a roughage source, although quality has likely declined substantially since those stalks were baled last fall.
Cover crops could also be a feed option in early spring or later in the growing season, he says.
Feed tests might be worth the expense, Waggoner says.
“You need to know what you’re feeding,” he says. “You can make the same soup using different ingredients, so be alert to any opportunity that might come about to help you save a little money.”