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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
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Dealing with Feed Shortages

VCE Agricultural and Applied Economics: Management and Production Economics December1995

by Henry Snodgrass

An unusually wet spring followed by a dry summer, has led to shortages of feed across parts of the state. If producers are concerned about the amount of feed they are going to need to get through the feeding season, they should inventory the feed on hand to determine the amount available. With this information and past years experiences, it is possible to estimate if the quantity of feed on hand will be sufficient. If the answer is no then there are some management practices for dealing with the problem. However, in certain situations purchased feed, although it may be expensive, is necessary.

  1. Cull the herd. Reduce the cattle numbers to match the feed supply. Old, crippled cows with bad mouths, open cows, and cows with bad attitudes are all candidates to be culled.

  2. Utilize stockpiled fescue. Fescue in late fall and early winter is a good forage. Where practical, consider strip grazing of fescue to maximize the utilization of the forage. Temporary electric fences will work nicely for this.

  3. Utilize small grains. Pasturing on small grains can provide an excellent feed while reducing the amount of stored feed needed.

  4. Use crop residues, for example, corn stover.

  5. Forage test. Knowing the quality of the feed on hand is important in determining what is needed to meet the nutrient requirement of the cattle being fed (Table 1).

  6. Group cattle according to feed requirements. If dry cows and nursing cows are being fed together, some cows are not getting enough feed or some cows are being over fed.

  7. Avoid feed waste. Some feed waste is inevitable but reducing the amount of feed wasted will add up over the entire feeding season. Feeding once a day rather than putting out three or four days hay at a time will save a considerable amount of feed.

  8. Supplement needed nutrients. By adding additional nutrients or additives with the hay you are feeding, you can reduce the amount of hay being fed or extend it.

  9. Control parasites. Parasite control is a management practice which should always be practiced, but it increases in importance with limited feed or high cost feed.

  10. Use alternative feeds. Purchasing feed, such as corn grain, is expensive but, in certain situations, it may be necessary.

Table 1. Daily Nutrient Requirements for Mature Beef Cows

CalciumPhosphorusVitamin A
 lbs. per daygmIU

(NOTE: Requirements based on 1000 lb. cows, adjust upward for heavier weights.)

* Middle third of pregnancy

** Last third of pregnancy

There are many sources for additional TDN and/or protein available. Shop around and compare prices. Look at the cost per pound of TDN or cost per pound of the nutrient needed. Be conscious of quality, especially if buying hay. A ton of hay is not always a ton of hay.

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