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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Cow-Calf Manager

Livestock Update, August 1998

John B. Hall, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

Feed Budgeting

The hot dog days of summer are upon us and most of us are worried about getting hay put up. Hopefully, itís second-cutting for most folks, but for some of us it just an extended first-cutting. The strange weather this summer, almost too wet in some areas of Virginia while others are extremely dry, has me thinking about feed budgeting or planning for the winter feeding period. That seems crazy in August, but it is what you need to do to minimize your winter feed costs.

To prepare a feed budget you need the following information: 1) number of cows, calves, yearlings, heifers and bulls kept through winter, 2) current hay supply and quality, 3) number of acres available now for stockpiling or hay, 4) type of storage options, and 5) local feed alternatives. From this information, you can decide how much feed and what quality of feed you need to make or purchase. You can also decide if you can take advantage of some local opportunities for winter feeds.

Most people already do steps 1 and 2 by estimating the number of bales of hay they think theyíll need for the winter. That would be fine except knowing a little more and making some decisions in early August can greatly reduce feed costs. This year for example, it may be better for producers in Southside Virginia to investigate using corn silage instead of hay. Much of the corn in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina does not look like it will make much grain, but it should make pretty good silage. Producers in northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley may have an opportunity to sell hay out of state, and use lower quality hay and some by-products for their herds. Rainfall in western Virginia may be sufficient for good stockpiling of fescue.

Rather than try to explain feed budgeting in great detail in this column letís just hit the high points. If you are interested in feed budgeting, then you should visit with your extension agent or nutritionist.

Step 1. The number and type of animals kept is multiplied by the estimated amount of feed needed per animal Table 1. Only amounts of hay needed are given in Table 1. Amounts of all other forages should be adjusted based on dry matter content. Dry matter required / dry matter content of feed = amount of feed needed

Step 2. The total amount of feed including quality is compare to the current or August 1 feed supply. For example, I need 30 tons of feed that is 58% TDN and 11.0% Crude protein to feed 20 replacement heifers for 120 days, but I only have 20 tons (dry matter) of hay that will meet that criteria. I now know I need to make some more good hay or stockpile or find some inexpensive supplements.

Table 1. Dry matter requirements and hay needed for different classes of cattle*

Class of CattleDry Matter Requirement per day (lb)Hay needed per day to meet requirement (lbs)
Cow (Dry) 2529.5
Cow (Mid-lactation)3035.0
Heifers and yearlings20 - 2423.5 - 28.2
Bulls25 - 3029.5 - 35.0
*Hay is assumed to be 85% dry matter. Quality of feed also needs to be considered.

Step 3. Consider your current access to grazing, stockpiling, hay fields or local feeds. One acre of properly stockpiled fescue with strip grazing can feed one cow for 80-120 days. Small grains such as barley will be good buys this year and can help extend feed supplies.

Step 4. Consider your storage and handling options. Do you have a front-end loader and bunks for silage? Could you set up a self-feeding system for silage? Are you going to unroll hay or feed it in a hay ring? Answers to these questions impact what feed you can handle and how much you need. For example, if you keep hay in a barn and unroll it youíll probably need to make 15% more than you need because of waste and storage loss. But if you store it outside and self feed it in hay rings, you may need to make 30% more.

Step 5. Decide what you need to stockpile, buy, or make. Decide if you are better feeding what you have on hand or selling it and buying a cheaper alternative.

Usually producers get ìstuck in a rutî as far as their winter feeding system as a result our feed costs sometime are much greater than they could be. Try feeding budgeting this year and look at some alternatives. You might save some money.

Next month: Weaning strategies

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