Alternative Forages and Sample Wintering Rations for Beef Cows
Table of Contents
Beef cow feeding costs are the largest expense for the cow-calf sector. An Ontario benchmark project determined that in 2006 and 2007 feed costs were 62% and 63% respectively, of the overall operating costs for the high profit farms (Ontario Beef Cow Calf Summary Cow Calf Analysis Program, 2006 and 2007). Cow feed has a large impact on the cows health, so costs and nutrition must be balanced. Cow producers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with new feeds, their nutritional parameters and feeding strategies to benefit their operation. This factsheet presents options for reducing feeding costs while supplying a healthy ration to the cow.
This factsheet is written using common units used by the beef industry. The use of imperial measurements represents the industry standards.
Forage is the foundation of a cows ration. There are numerous aspects to consider when formulating in properly stored forages.
Stored Forage Shortage
In the event of a stored forage shortage, there are a number of strategies that can be implemented to substitute or stretch forage resources. The most important is to substitute other straws, stovers and residues for hay. The extent to which this substitution can be used is a function of the straw quality and the cows stage of production.
Table 1 ranks some common alternative forages (as well as a few other feeds) in terms of nutrient analysis on a dry matter basis, including forage digestibility and crude protein levels. Neutral detergent fibre (NDF) is a measure of how well a feed stimulates rumination. Rumination is an important part of the process by which cows digest food. Paying attention to the effective neutral detergent fibre (eNDF) as a percentage of total neutral detergent fibre, may become important to the beef cow/calf sector as it has in the dairy sector, as alternative forage sources are investigated. Sufficient eNDF will stimulate chewing, salivation and rumination, promoting a healthy pH in the rumen to maintain feed intake levels.
Table 1. Forages and their nutritional analysis based on dry matter basis.
Note: CP = crude protein; TDN = total digestible nutrient
Source: Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 7th Revised Edition 1996, Appendix Table 1A, except those denoted as 1 which are from the Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants, 2007, Table 1511.
A long-term trend in Ontario has been the conversion of forages to crop land. According to Statistics Canada Census of Agriculture, long-term increases in soybeans, wheat and corn changed from 28%57% from 19762011. This overall reduction in forages makes the use of residues or other forages in beef rations critical.
Producers can use various strategies for cattle feed and nutrient management, but crop management can be effective also in dealing with a forage shortage.
One of the best opportunities to create more forage will be via the planting and harvesting of annuals after the current winter wheat crop for winter feed. Since winter wheat is harvested in July, there are opportunities to plant alternative forages in late July and August. Early summer is the time to plan for the following:
Figure 1. Beef per acre calculations based on laboratory analysis of forage plots after winter wheat. OMAFRA 2013.
The results are by fertility rate (lbs nitrogen per acre) for the various forage crops, each reported at their optimal seeding rate (lbs per acre) as demonstrated on 2012 plots by forage type. Specifically, oats and barley reported here were seeded at 70 lb and 90 lb per acre respectively, and the oat/pea mix at twice that rate across the varying nitrogen applications.
Until more tillable acres in Ontario are used for perennial forages, the ability to meet forage needs will be strongly associated with using harvested cash crop land to supply forages. Producers will need to be aggressive in finding forage alternatives, but also in creating forage supply by double cropping or using higher yield forage for both grazing and stored feeds.
Forage Replacement Strategies Commodity and Hay Rations
The idea of using commodities, such as corn grain or distillers grains, in beef cow rations is not new. Several studies have shown that dependent on market prices, using corn grain, corn gluten feed or distillers grains, the cost of a pregnant cows wintering ration can be reduced when displacing hay. Producers can benefit from finding a way to use these products in cow-calf operation rations, especially in cases where extra protein is needed such as with poor quality hay. Consider commodities with protein content above 20% which can be used in any ration where grain is used, in addition to a protein source.
Some ration ideas and associated limitations are given in the tables below. Table 2 gives example rations to replace 2830 lb hay intake per 1,400 lb cow per day. We are assuming mid-bloom grass hay at 57% TDN and 10% CP. In addition to the ingredients listed, all rations should have mineral included. This can be mixed in with the grain, fed free choice or mixed in a TMR.
Table 2. Example dry cow rations with hay substitution
* Nutrient content based on 28 lb intake equivalency
** Dried distillers' grains with solubles
*** Ration protein content somewhat higher than required
Table 3. Comparison of corn grain and dried distillers' grains with solubles (DDGS) nutrient profile book values. All nutrients expressed as percentages, on a dry matter basis (adapted from NRC, 2007).
Adapted from National Research Council, 2007.
The advantage of using distillers grains with soluble (DDGS) or wet distillers grains (WDG) is that it contains the concentrated protein, fat, mineral and fibre content of the corn by a factor of three when the starch has been fermented. The resulting co-product is moderate in protein (24%27%) and still energy dense due to the fat content and the highly digestible remaining fibre fraction (NDF) allowing them to be beneficial in hay reducing rations. This product has the added benefit of being pre-ground, higher in protein with less acidosis causing potential than ground corn. Corn gluten feed is similar to DDGS or WDG in many ways, when DDGS is similarly priced to soybean meal. This makes it economical to use DDGS in gestation rations, especially when forage quality is poor. Table 4 gives an example of a few rations that might be commonly fed to young animals and cows and a comparison for when DDGS is used or not.
Table 4. Mid and late gestation rations for cows and heifers with or without DDGS.
Source: Ration produced with CowBytes Beef Ration Balancer v4.6.8, Alberta Agriculture.
These could be implemented with lower quality hay than suggested here as protein is not limiting. Mineral premix not included.
When using barley, it should be valued at about 90% of corn as an energy source, while wheat is equal to or slightly higher than corn. Grain should not exceed one-third of the total ration. For example; a diet for a 1,400 lb beef cow that was 2830 lb of hay/day can be changed to 20 lb of hay plus 5 lb of grain (5/25 × 100 = 20% grain). The upper limit for grain would be 15 lbs of hay plus 7.5 lb of grain (7.5/22.5 × 100 = 33% grain). This latter scenario requires that the grain be divided into at least two feedings per day, or the use of a TMR (total mixed ration) delivery and good management. Keeping the hay replaced at one-third rather than half will also help keep the cow from feeling hungry.
Any time that energy and protein should be supplemented to the beef animal, whether calf or cow, Ontario cow-calf producers should consider grains, corn-based DDGS and other commodities. In some market environments, the extra protein contained in DDGS compared to corn alone can be purchased for little extra cost. This fact combined with the reality that ruminants eat through this pre-processed, higher fibre co-product has potential for any commodity feeding program and including many cow-calf operations.
Top Nine Cost and Labour Saving Feeding Strategies
Figure 2. Recommended sampling size.
Decreased amounts of forages in Ontario are compelling beef cow producers to implement new feeds and feeding strategies to their operation. Replacing traditional hay with readily available forages and quality commodities will serve to decrease the cost of feeding and will make the cattle sector more profitable. It is important to remember to test feeds and especially home-grown forages for minerals in addition to protein and energy parameters, and use these values with the advice of a nutrition advisor to develop a targeted supplementation strategy that avoids over-feeding of ingredients or nutrients.
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