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Cost of Feeding Alternative Feeds to Mature Beef Cows

Farm Business Management Update, October 1997

By Jack Dunford of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech

The short 1997 hay crop has caused beef producers to consider some alternatives to the typical hay wintering ration. Poultry litter and shelled corn are two alternatives that most beef cattle producers can handle and find locally to extend the short hay crop. When corn is $3.25 per bushel and 48% SBOM is $313 per ton, the nutritional value of grass hay ranges from $60 to $90 per ton, depending on quality, and poultry litter is worth $100 to $125 per ton. But average quality hay in round bales rarely demands such high prices, and litter is too plentiful in the Valley to sell for much more than the current rate of $25 to $30 per ton.

One way to evaluate the competitive advantage of these feeds is to determine the daily cost of feeding alternative rations to a beef cow. For this analysis a 1,000-pound lactating cow (fall calving) with moderate milking ability was assumed. This cow needs about 22 pounds of dry matter daily containing 56% TDN and 9% CP. The following table summarizes the daily cost of feed for these cows given a range of hay prices and alternative wintering programs:

  Cost of Hay per Ton
  Daily Feed Cost for 1,000 lb. Lactating Cow
1 - 24 lbs. grass hay $.48$.60$.72$.84
2 - 12 lbs. grass hay
12 lbs. litter
3 - 21 lbs. grass hay $.54$.65$.75$.85
4 - 11 lbs. grass hay
11 lbs. litter
2 lbs. corn
  Daily Feed Cost for 1,000 lb. Dry Cow
5 - 21 lbs. grass hay $.42$.53$.63$.73
6 - 11 lbs. grass hay
11 lbs. litter

A medium quality grass hay containing 10% CP and 55% TDN was used in this comparison. Litter was priced at $30 per ton and corn at $3.25 per bushel. In the above rations, poultry litter is a money-saving feed stuff in the $40 to $50 per ton range, while corn is too expensive to consider unless it can be purchased in the $2.50 to $3.00 per bushel range. The rations containing corn provide excessive energy and would only be warranted in first calf heifers or extremely thin cows nursing a calf. Average or better quality hay will meet the nutritional needs of most mature lactating cows, as will the 50:50 blend of hay and litter which contains surplus protein.

Feeding $3.00 per bushel corn to the dry spring-calving cow is not a good investment. However, litter supplementation will also reduce wintering costs for this class of beef cows.

Poultry litter is an economical feed source for mature beef cattle as long it has been appropriately stacked and kept dry. Mature beef cows can adjust to litter rather quickly and will accept it without blending it with other feeds.

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