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7 Beef Nutrition Tips to Keep Cattle Feed Costs in Check This Winter

5 minute read

Everywhere you look these days, goods and services are in short supply and high in price. Whether it’s gas, food or shipping materials, supply is not meeting the demand. High feed costs for your beef cattle are also on that list.  

Due to weather conditions like droughts plus global shipping and supply issues, feed availability has plummeted, and prices have continued to skyrocket. The USDA reported a 48% increase in the price of soybeans between June 2020 and May 2021. When prices for commodities like corn and soybeans rise, the price of competing protein feeds increases as well. This could hurt your profitability this winter.  

The cold weather is already here, but there are still things you can do to help offset the rising feed costs on your operation. You’ll want to bring in your full team of professionals — your veterinarian, nutritionist and possibly even an agronomist — to help get the most out of your feed strategy this winter.  

Beef Nutrition Strategies for Avoiding Costly Cattle Feed this Winter 

For the maximum return on investment, these strategies should be implemented all year round. That means now is the best time to start! Here are seven tips to help you get started.  

1. Pregnancy Check Your Cows

When forage is in short supply, it costs too much to feed females that are not carrying a calf. Plan to pregnancy check your herd about 60 days after the last artificial insemination or bull removal. If you haven’t done this yet, there is still time.  

2. Keep Cows Pregnant

Once you’ve done your pregnancy checks and removed open females from the operation, it’s important that you keep your remaining cows and heifers pregnant. If they lose their calf, your feed investment is wasted. Supplementing your cattle diets with organic trace minerals, like those provided in Zinpro® Availa® 4, can improve embryonic survival, which then improves pregnancy retention. In a 2019 study at South Dakota State University, Zinpro Availa 4 improved embryonic survival by 11% in replacement heifers (73% versus 62%) from day 17 through day 60 post-insemination.   

3. Calculate Cattle Body Condition Score

To avoid overfeeding the cowherd, evaluate body condition scores (BCS) and target a range between 5.5 and 6. It’s important to reach this BCS by calving season, but keeping cows above this level can run up your feed costs and negatively impact performance and reproduction.  

There is evidence that simply separating your heifers into two groups — a heavier weight group and a lighter weight group — can have a positive impact. It allows you to shift feed resources to the lighter heifers to help them gain necessary body weight and condition without overfeeding the heavier ones. This strategy improves economics by boosting reproductive performance while optimizing feed costs. The same benefits can be expected by separating heavier and lighter cows as well.  

4. Test Forages for Macro Mineral Content

A basic near-infrared (NIR) hay test is relatively inexpensive and can tell you the basic nutrient and macro-mineral composition of your feedstuffs. For example, producers often supplement too much phosphorus to their cows because they are not testing their hay. Work with your nutritionist to test your forages and formulate accordingly to save money by meeting, and not exceeding, requirements for optimum production. 

5. Improve Forage Utilization with COPRO 

Forages are typically the foundation of the herd’s diet and efficient digestion is key to improving performance and reducing feed costs. One strategy is to feed a small amount of corn. Feeding up to 0.3% of a cow’s body weight in corn per day (around 4 pounds of corn for a 1,300-pound cow) positively impacts fiber digestion. Be careful though. Exceeding that amount has a negative effect on fiber digestion. Another opportunity to improve forage utilization is by feeding the COPRO® cobalt available in Zinpro Availa 4, which enhances forage digestibility.  

Also keep in mind that increased forage maturity lowers nutrient availability. So, when feeding mature forages, make sure to work with your nutritionist to compensate for the decreased digestibility and mineral availability.  

6. Consider Feeding Alternate Forages and Feeds for Your Beef Herd  

If hay is in short supply, consider feeding alternate forages like corn silage, corn stalk bales or straw if they are in higher supply and price-in appropriately for energy and protein. Exploring non-traditional feeds may be an option as well, such as vegetable harvest residue, bakery waste or spent-grains from the local craft brewery.  

7. Save Your Pastures for the Spring 

As winter nears its end, it will be time to start thinking about spring and the beginning of the next grazing season. Keep cattle on one pasture so that the other pastures have a chance to grow.  

Giving cows free reign over every pasture allows for selective grazing, so forages get consumed before adequate photosynthetic surface area can develop and lead to more rapid growth. Cordoning off pastures now leads to more substantial forage supply as the spring progresses. Seek out your local agronomist or extension specialist to explore other strategies for proper pasture management.  

Maintain Profitability Despite High Beef Cattle Feed Costs 

Despite the rise in feed costs, there are things you can do to help save money and maintain optimum herd performance throughout the winter.  

Our team of experts is also ready to help you advance your business. We have comprehensive products and solutions that can boost the profitability of your beef cattle operation. To learn more about how we can help, connect with a Zinpro representative today.