Winter feed represents the largest component of annual cow cost. Of the total annual feed cost for cattle, 75 percent is winter feed.
One way of increasing the profit potential in the cow herd is to reduce this cost by extending the grazing season.
For example, a 1,500-pound mature cow will consume 38 pounds of hay per day. If that hay sells for $50 per ton, then her feed cost is ($50 divided by 2,000 pounds) times 38 pounds per day = 95 cents per day.
A three-year study conducted by Ohio State University researchers Dr. Steven Loerch and Dr. Dave Barker at the Coshocton branch of OARDC looked at the cost of extending the grazing season, feeding hay and limit-feeding concentrates.
Their results indicated the average winter feed cost per cow per day over the 112-day feeding period for the stockpiled pasture feeding system was 63 cents per day per head, $1.31 per head per day for corn limit-fed cattle, and $1.61 per head per day for cattle wintered on hay.
Prices used for the calculations were at $3.80/bu. corn, $80/ton hay, and $150/ton supplement.
Furthermore, their results did not indicate significant differences in cow performance between the three systems.
These results equate to a savings of approximately $1 per head day when comparing the stockpiled pasture system to the hay feeding system. On average for the three-year project, that is a savings of $112 per cow per year for the stockpiled forage.
Extending the grazing season, maximizing forage utilization and reducing the need for winter hay feeding can improve farm profitability of any ruminant animal production system. The key to implementing these systems is to look at examples, attend a grazing school and start simple utilizing temporary cross fencing and water distribution.
Sign up for the USDA/NRCS, EQIP grazing program and start planning your system.