Reduce Cattle Feed Costs by Reducing Waste

The biggest expense for a cattle operation is the cost of feeding livestock. And while large operations can employ the use of nutritionists, bulk purchases and more to keep costs down, most smaller operations do not have those advantages.

Thankfully, there are ways for even small cattle producers to help drive down the cost of hay and winter rations. One of the most significant is to lessen waste. What follows are some important ways to do just that:

  • Consider a bale processor. Bale processors lightly chop hay, which improves how hay is used by the herd. Research shows that there is less waste when windrowing cows in the pasture with processed hay. Processing also improves use of hay by increasing accessibility of carbohydrates to the rumen. This is especially important for low-quality hay. While bale processors require a lot of labor, they are worth the effort. Finally, bale processors allow for the movement of feeding areas, which helps to distribute nutrients and manure evenly over pastures.
  • Use a hay feeder. Hay waste also is reduced when cattle are fed smaller amounts of hay. This is also labor intensive but helps cattle from trampling and soiling on the feed. One way to get around the need to feed daily without increasing waste is through the use of a hay feeder. The key is to invest in enough feeders so all members of the herd have a chance to eat.
  • Perform quality tests. The higher the nutritional content of hay, the less of it is required for a herd to maintain body condition. That is why a forage test is so important. If your purchase hay, ask the seller for sample numbers off the year’s crop being purchased. Producers who cut their own hay need to test their nutritional numbers, as well. There are several factors that will determine the quality of hay. When testing hay, make sure to look for protein and energy levels. When testing alfalfa hay, it is also important to look at the relative feed value. 
  • Store it well. Hay that is not used can be saved and kept good when it is wrapped well and covered up. While not ideal, if you must store some bales outside, feed those to cattle first since it will deteriorate more quickly than hay kept indoors.

No matter what the size of your cattle operation, reducing feed waste will improve your bottom line. Using the four steps outlined above will allow you to do so without compromising animal health.

It also is critical that your vaccination protocol is on target. Work with your veterinarian to maintain a consistent protocol and administer the vaccines at the appropriate times to optimize cattle health when temperatures plummet.

With strong winds expected to blow through most of the United States, having a place for cattle to take shelter also is critical. A shelterbelt with trees, temporary windbreaks and panels are good options.  

Wintering your cattle takes plenty of time, effort and investment but is worth it. Failing to implement a successful strategy can drastically impact your bottom line in terms of herd loss and even just one animal succumbing to the weather is too many. Failing to prepare for winter herd needs, could lead to a situation where cows go backwards in BCS, creating potential rebreeding challenges, as well. 

Making sure your animal health protocols are up to par is what will allow your herd to thrive through the winter and into spring.