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Money maker: Sharpen the pencil when buying supplements

Money maker: Sharpen the pencil when buying supplements

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Purchased feed is a large part of a ranch budget and has a significant effect on profit. Because of its significance, successful producers manage feed costs for the best economical returns.

They first reduce the required amount of supplements by properly implementing and managing grazing systems that produce quantities of forage that support year-round grazing. Supplement needs and feed costs are reduced by matching animal nutrient needs with forage nutrient content. Forage quality (nutrient content) varies with season and environmental conditions while cattle nutrient requirements are dependent on their reproductive stage and weight.

From Interstate 20 to the Gulf of Mexico, warm-season perennial grasses are the basic pasture forages. Bahiagrass, bermudagrass and dallisgrass are common species in this area and can provide extensive grazing during the summer. They begin producing green growth around mid-March and go into dormancy about the first of October. The growing period varies depending on location and environmental conditions, but peak production of these species normally occurs during mid-summer.

Cows normally need energy supplementation from the time of calving until approximately five months after calving. This is the period of greatest nutritional demand because cows must lactate, repair their reproductive tracts, resume heat cycles and rebreed. Protein supplement usually is needed the first three months postpartum (after calving).

Energy supplementation usually is required again in the ninth and 10th months after calving. This is during the precalving period in which cows must reach or preferably maintain body condition score of 5 to 6 and calve in this condition. A body condition score of 5 to 6 is necessary to help cows deliver healthy calves and to quickly rebreed. Protein supplement is needed during this period in the 11th and 12th months after calving.

Calculate the value

“The primary factor to consider when buying supplement is the price for the needed ingredients,” said Darren Henry of the department of animal and food sciences at Texas Tech University. “Nutrient costs are calculated using the following formula:

$/lb of nutrient = [($ per ton)/2000]÷[(% DM)/100 X (% nutrient (CP or TDN))/100]

“Assume corn gluten feed pellets are available at $155 per ton. They contain 90% dry matter (DM), 80% total digestible nutrients (TDN, energy) and 22% crude protein (CP). Using the above formula, the TDN and CP costs are calculated in the following manner:

$/lb of TDN = (155/2000) ÷ [(90/100) X (80% TDN/100)] = $0.108 per lb of total digestible nutrients

$/lb of CP = (155/2000) ÷ [(90/100) X (22% CP/100)] = $0.354 per lb of crude protein.”

Before making a decision on which supplement to buy, calculate nutrient costs on each available feed. Record the costs on a spreadsheet as shown in Table 1 to allow direct comparison of the data. A quick study of Table 1 shows that cotton burrs (gin residue) is the cheapest cost of total digestible nutrients and crude protein.

This is not the whole story, however. There are other associated costs to consider when selecting a supplement. Do you have proper storage, handling and feeding capabilities for certain supplements?

“Cost of feed loss is often significant due to poor storage facilities and feeding methods,” Henry said. “Placing hay in a rack or ring, rather than feeding on the ground, can save 14.5% of the dry matter. This is a savings of 45,675 pounds of dry matter, resulting in annual savings of $1,881 for a 100-cow herd needing 3,150 pounds of dry matter per cow during a 120-day hay feeding period. Inadequate hay storage can result in an additional 9% loss. The cumulative loss from inadequate storage and feeding on the ground is 23.5%. When hay is purchased at $120 per ton and 25% is wasted, the actual hay cost is $160 per ton. The 25% waste is an added cost of $40 per ton.”

The one component often forgotten when estimating supplement cost is the labor required to feed it. When calculating supplement costs, do not forget to account for feed loss and labor. Otherwise, cost comparisons are unrealistic. Each individual feedstuff has positive and negative attributes.

Although it is important to look at protein and total digestible nutrient contents when comparing feeds, percentages of other components such as fat, sulfur and phosphorus should be considered as well. It is important to maintain the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio in the range of 1.5:1 to 4:1.

Byproducts as


“There are a number of byproducts that offer good nutrient value as cattle supplements. Corn gluten feed (CGF) is widely utilized in the United States and is a byproduct of the wet milling process,” Henry said. “It is essentially the process residue after removal of starch, germ and gluten. The feed is relatively high in crude protein at 20 to 25%. Corn gluten feed is also high in energy, containing 37% neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and 80% TDN. Neutral detergent fiber is related to voluntary intake of the feed and availability of net energy.”

Distillers grains are corn and sorghum byproducts of the ethanol industry and are widely utilized in the U.S., especially the Midwest. They are a relatively good protein source containing 28 to 33 percent crude protein and are a great energy source varying from 85 to 95 percent TDN. For every 100 pounds of corn processed for ethanol, about 33 pounds of distillers grain are produced.

There are many different options in buying distillers grains. The three primary products are wet, modified and dried that vary in moisture content. Wet distillers grains (WDG) contain up to 70% moisture and have a shelf life of four to five days. Due to the water content, transportation of WDG usually is viable economically only within about a 100-mile radius of the ethanol distillery. Modified distillers grains (MDG) are dried to approximately 50 to 55% moisture and have a shelf life of about three weeks. Dried distillers grains (DDG) contain 10 to 12% moisture and have an almost indefinite shelf life. They are shipped throughout the U.S. and to other countries.

Three additional options are created by adding distiller solubles to WDG, MDG and DDG. Distiller solubles are the dissolved remains and fine particles left after solid grains have been strained from distillation residue. They are used as a source of vitamins and minerals in animal rations.

“Soybean hulls are a byproduct of meal and oil production,” Henry said. “Their crude protein content is 12% and they serve as a high-energy fiber source containing 65% NDF and 77% TDN. The NDF fraction of soybean hulls is highly digestible. Soybean hulls can replace portions of hay fed during the winter and is largely found in pelleted form.”

Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar industry that has been fed to cattle for decades and has multiple purposes. It is used as a binding agent, carrier and to increase palatability. It contains 6% CP and 30 to 45% sugar. Molasses increases organic matter digestibility, average daily gain (ADG) and gain to feed ratio. It decreases fiber digestibility and has no effect on DMI of hay. Other byproducts used as supplement and their CP and TDN values are listed in Table 2.

Henry’s final take-home message was to start considering feed as an investment rather than just a cost. Choose the feed that will deliver the greatest amount of return.

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