Winter feed represents one of the largest components of annual cow cost. Approximately 75% of the annual feed cost for cattle is winter feed. One way to increase 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 approximately 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 — $0.95 per day.
In a three year study, Ohio State University researchers Steven Loerch and Dave Barker looked at the cost of extending the grazing season, feeding hay and limit-feeding concentrates.
Their results indicated that the average winter feed cost per cow per day over the 112-day feeding period for stockpiled pasture 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 per bushel of corn, $80 per ton of hay and $150 per ton of supplement. Furthermore, results did not indicate significant differences in cow performance between the three systems.
These results equate to a savings of approximately $1 per head per day when comparing the stockpiled pasture system to the hay feeding system. On average for the three-year project, that was a savings of $112 per cow per year for the stockpiled forage.
Planning the winter grazing and supplementation program has tremendous impact on farm profitability. Extending the grazing season, maximizing forage utilization, reducing feed waste, understanding stored forage nutritional composition and creating a winter feed area all influence profitability.
The key to implementing these systems is to look at examples on other farms. Formulate a vision for the winter-feeding system, then seek other resources input for the plan. The local OSU Extension office, Soil and Water Conservation and the Natural Resource Conservation Service have employees knowledgeable on grazing systems and they can be helpful in providing input.
Finally, consider planning the entire system and sign-up for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s EQIP grazing program.
The last part of the winter grazing plan is implementing the plan. By planning first, one may avoid some unnecessary, and potentially costly, adjustments later. A well-managed winter feeding system will greatly reduce the cost of production and is environmentally friendly.
(The author is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator in Guernsey County. You can reach him at 740-489-5300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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