by: Stephen B. Blezinger

Part 2

In the previous installment of this series we discussed the fact that feed and grain costs continue to climb and are reaching unprecedented levels. While there MAY be some hope in easing of these prices IF the current crop proves better than cop reports over the last few weeks there is still a great deal of uncertainty in what feed and grain prices will be over the coming fall and winter.

Also in the last installment we began a discussion of steps the producer needs to take to make the most of his feeding and nutrition costs for the cow herd.

To reiterate, the producer has to know his forage base. What growing forages are still in place and what hay or other forage supply (silage, haylage) does he/she have? Forage testing was once again emphasized so the producer knows what he is starting with. Secondly, we discussed comparing supplements. We will continue that discussion here.

Methods of Supplementation

We discussed the various methods of supplementation and the fact that what supplements an operation uses or can uses is variable depending on facilities, equipment, labor and so on. While some means of supplementation are less expensive than others, it is often related to how it has to be handled or what is needed to handle.

For example, the cow-calf producer could feed a simple blend of Soy Hull Pellets and Corn Gluten Feed (~16 percent protein, fed at 6 lbs per head per day to provide 1 lb. of crude protein) at a cost of around $350 per ton or $1.05/head per day. But to get this done he will have to have a way to store bulk commodities (doubtful this can be purchased in bags) as well as a way to feed. Feeding may be accomplished with a tractor and front end loader, a trip hopper mounted in the pickup or on a trailer, feed troughs which allow space for all cattle, etc. Other options may be as simple as using five gallon buckets. This sounds cheap but is labor intensive. To feed 100 cows in this manner would require 600 lbs of feed per day. At about 25 lbs. per bucket this would require 24 buckets. This method also exposes the producer or his labor force to having to dump buckets in the middle of a group of aggressive cows and risk being knocked down and stepped on.

The point to this discussion is that there are numerous considerations that have to be taken aside from the cost of the supplement, which can vary greatly. In many cases, supplements that appear too expensive may ultimately be the best value. Conversely, commodities, such as whole cottonseed may appear relatively inexpensive. However, since you often have to buy a full truckload (22-24 tons) all at one time you are tying up a significant amount of money for a potentially extended period of time. Right now, in much of the south, whole cottonseed is costing around $360 per ton. For a 22 ton (44,000 lbs) load this would total $7,920. For 100 head, if feeding 4 lbs. per head per day, this would last 110 days. So the decision becomes, can you tie up almost $8,000 for this period of time or do you need to spread this expenditure out over this period of time? Economists refer to this as the “opportunity” cost or what else could this money be used for if not tied up for almost four months. Again, this requires very individual analysis. Other considerations include storage, can you store this volume of product effectively keeping it dry as well as insect and critter-free for this period of time. These are all questions that have to be answered and if you are to make an informed, accurate decision.

These types of questions have to be answered for each type of seeding or supplementation method.

Basic Comparisons

One of the best ways to start is to do a very simple comparison of the cost of the basic nutrient you need to provide. In general the most basic nutrient we are concerned with for a cow-calf operation is protein. To start off with let's consider some basics. Here are some givens based on background work the producer has done:

1) He has a herd of 100 head of crossbred cows averaging 1,200 lbs. These cows are all pregnant and the calves were weaned on September 1. Average calving date is February 1.

2) He has been very fortunate and baled a lot of hay this summer so he has more than adequate forage availability. Currently pastures are in so-so condition but is still getting some grazing. Depending on fall moisture conditions he plans to start feeding hay on November 1. He may need to start supplementing prior to that however.

3) He has had his forages analyzed and has found that his hay tests 88 percent dry matter and 6.5 percent protein on a dry matter basis, so just a little short of what his cattle will require daily. For his cattle in the late second and third trimester their daily dry matter intake and protein needs are about 24.0 lbs and 1.85 lbs respectively.

4) So based on this when he gets ready to feed hay, to meet the dry matter intake requirements (24 lbs) he will need to feed 27 lbs of hay per day (24 lbs / 88% = 27 lbs). With an average of 6.5 percent protein this provides 1.56 lbs of protein from the hay. This creates a difference of .29 lbs of protein (1.85 – 1.29 = .29 lbs of crude protein). Since crude protein is not 100 percent digestible it is suggested to increase this by 33 percent so the amount to feed becomes .38 lbs (.29 * 1.33 = .38 lbs).

5) To make this easy and to give his cattle a little more “fudge room” he is going to up the protein feeding rate to an even .4 lb. of protein.

6) Also, he has lots of storage as well as a tractor and front end loader. He also has plenty of troughs. He does not have an over abundance of time since he also has a job in town. Thus convenience is a definite plus.

To work out the amount of actual supplement he needs to feed he sets up a table to calculate what his supplement feeding rate needs to be in order to deliver the ½ lb. of protein. This table would look like the following:

Based on what is available from local feed providers he can purchase the following:

a) 20 percent All-natural range cubes $475 per ton (2 lbs per head per day, hand fed, producer pick up).

b) 32 percent protein liquid feed @ $380 per ton (2 lbs per head per day, self fed, store delivered).

c) 24 percent protein tubs @ $550 per ton (1.5 lbs per head per day, self fed, producer pick up)

Basic cost analysis for each of these supplements:

From this comparison he can see several things:

1) Of the three supplement types the liquid feed is the least expensive per head per day. This is true in terms of cost per ton, cost per head per day and cost per lb. of protein (about ½ the cost).

2) Not only is the liquid feed the least expensive it is also is less demanding of his time since the dealership will deliver the feed for him.

3) The downside is that the liquid feed will require that he purchase feeders, the number depending on how many pastures he has. These feeders can run $200 to $250 each. If he has to purchase two ($500) this will created a cost of $5 per head. These feeders are normally pretty durable so should last him several years.

4) One difference between these supplement types is the moisture content. Cubes are about 90 percent dry matter, Liquids 65 percent and tubs can vary, ranging from 75 to 90 percent. Cubes and Tubs are typically the higher of the three in terms of energy (Total Digestible Nutrients or TDN, Net Energy, others, however you prefer to compare) on an as-fed basis. In herds where the animal's body condition is not the best going into the winter, where hay is of a particularly poor quality or a combination of the two it may be advisable to feed one of the other forms or possibly a combination. However, for this example we assumed no additional energy supplementation was necessary.

Other Nutrient Considerations

Per the discussion on energy just above, other nutrients beside protein have to be considered even though protein is normally the most expensive single nutrient to provide. Minerals are always required by a breeding herd. One thing that many producers fail to recognize is that most manufactured supplements carry a mineral and vitamin component which should be considered when building the complete program. It is important, given today's costs to consider all mineral sources in the animal's diet including forages, protein supplements and in many cases even water. In the next part of this series we will discuss a mineral audit and building the mineral part of the program.


As mentioned in Part 1, making the most of your feed and nutrition dollars is not a simple task and to be done correctly requires study and analysis. There are many considerations that need to be made and done correctly.

In the final part of the series, also as mentioned, we will look at building the mineral program. Many producers use the same product year after year even though their forages may change and supplementation methods may also change. Next time we'll look at the process of filling the mineral “gaps.”

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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