by: Stephen B. Blezinger

Part 1

Most of the experts are telling us that we may see unprecedented feed and grain costs this coming fall and winter as a result of the very dry weather conditions in the Midwest where a huge amount of our grains normally originate. With grains, proteins and by-products already at record levels, the typical cattle producer is facing significantly higher production expenses and resultant lower profit margins.

So once again we are faced with the task of evaluating strategies that can help us through a challenging period. Over the last few years we have had to deal with significant drought and much lower forage production in various areas around the country. Aside from the drought in the Midwest which has had a major effect on crop production, just last summer we saw a devastating drought in Texas and surrounding areas that reduced forage production to little or nothing. While some of these drought conditions still persist, at least to some degree in this area, for the most part forage conditions are dramatically different. The point, however, is that this was a situation that affected a region of the country. The effects to the US grain supply at this point will affect everyone's costs to some degree.

So beef cattle producers have some decisions to make. The high grain costs will affect all feeds and supplements, dry, liquids, tubs – all feeds and supplements. So making good, educated supplementation decisions will be important. Let's discuss a number of these situations.

Your Forage Base

This has been hammered on here over and over but knowing the nutrient content of your forage base is essential. You cannot feed or supplement your herd using your own hay or silage if you do not know what the nutrient content is. So you have to forage test. Some key issues concerning forage testing:

Hay sampling:

• Identify hay “lots.” This is a key first step to proper hay sampling, and one frequently ignored. A hay lot should be identified which is a single cutting, a single field and variety, and generally be less than 200 tons. Combinations of different lots of hay cannot be represented adequately by a forage sampling method; different lots should be sampled separately. Don't mix cuttings, fields, or hay types.

• Timing is important. It is important to sample the hay either as close to feeding, or as close to point of sale as possible. Dry matter measurements are especially subject to changes after harvest and during storage, but other measurements may also change. Hay immediately after harvest normally goes through a process of further moisture lost known as a “sweat.” During this period, hay may heat up due to the activities of microorganisms, driving residual moisture from the hay or, depending on microbiological activity, can actually contribute to moisture. In general, however, moisture content is likely to be reduced in the days and weeks after harvest. If the hay has been baled at excess moisture, further biological activity may result in molding, or even (under very high moisture conditions) spontaneous combustion of hay. However, after hay has equilibrated to the range of 90 percent DM (10 percent moisture, depending upon humidity), it is typically quite stable. Since the moisture content between samples can vary, comparison needs to be made on a dry matter basis.

• Use a good hay probe. There are multiple versions on the market. Just pick one that suits you the best. The main thing is to keep the cutting head sharp to make the probing process as easy as possible. Go to for a good list of hay probes. There are two basic types, drill and push. I personally use a push probe which allows me to sample a lot of bales in a short period of time.

• Mark each sample with the field and cutting or by lot number. No matter what, document each sample.

• Accurate sampling depends on reducing variability. This means sampling multiple bales. Sample at least 10 bales per lot is necessary to reduce the variability in nutrients between bales. Sample bales from a wide area around the field, not all from one location. This is time consuming but can ultimately help you save significant dollars. Remember, the point is to account for all the nutrients that you can from your forages that you either raised or already purchased for hopefully a lower cost.

• Submit each sample in a quart sized plastic bag (Zip-lock or similar). Squeeze as much of the air out as you can.

At the very least your forage test needs to include: Dry Matter/Moisture; Crude Protein; Crude Fat; Acid Detergent Fiber; (ADF); Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF); Calcium, Ca; Phosphorus, P; Magnesium, Mg; Potassium, K; Sulfur, S; Copper, Cu; Iron, Fe; Manganese, M and Zinc, Zn.

Other minerals as well as vitamins can be assayed from forage samples but this can get fairly expensive. The nutrients listed can give you a solid foundation to start from. Once you have these numbers you can begin evaluating supplements.

Comparing Supplements

There are worlds of supplements out there for the cattle producer to use. These can include range cubes, range meals, self limited-supplements, tubs (cooked or chemical), liquids fed in closed top troughs (lick tanks) or open top troughs, basic commodities and so on. Some thoughts:

One of the most basic considerations that should be made – which many producers do not – is what labor is required in providing these supplements to the cattle herd. Generally, products which do not require as much labor are more expensive, although that's not always the case. Secondly, there are supplement forms that are less expensive to buy but the producer has more initial expense to get set up and ultimately to feed.

For instance, liquid feeds are commonly delivered by the local dealer either at your request or on a “keep full” basis, which means he is responsible for monitoring the level of the tanks and keeping feed in these tanks. Subsequently, use of liquid feeds does not require a lot of labor. Similarly, limit-fed products (not salt limited) are commonly fed in large self feeders. These supplements are delivered by dealer in an auger truck so once again, not a lot of labor on the producer's part. I have actually spoken with producers who purchase these types of supplements in a bagged form and will fill the feeders themselves. While this allows for some intake control it does defeat some of the labor savings purpose. Let's go through some of the supplement types to evaluate some of the considerations for each, aside from the actual cost:


Making the most of your feed and nutrition dollars is not a simple task and to be done correctly requires a lot of study and analysis. You can see from this part of our discussion that many considerations have to be made and accounted for, not the least of which is labor and logistics.

In the next part of this series we will apply the economics. We'll discuss how to analyze and compare as many of these issues as we can. Given the volatile nature of the feed and grain market the best we can do is develop a good accurate understanding of how to make necessary comparisons.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is a management and nutritional consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached at or at (903) 352-3475. For more information please visit us on at www.facebook/reveille livestock concepts.

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