Reducing Winter Feed Costs

Clif Little, OSU Extension Agriculture Natural Resources, Guernsey County (this article was originally appeared in Farm and Dairy)

Stockpiled fescue with small round bales can be utilized for winter strip grazing. Photo by Clif Little

Winter feed represents one of the largest components of annual cow cost. Approximately seventy five percent of the annual feed cost for cattle is winter feed. One way to increase the profit potential in the cow herd is to reduce this cost by extending the grazing season.

For example, a 1500-pound mature cow will consume approximately 38 pounds of hay per day. If that hay sells for $50 per ton, then her feed cost is ($50 divided by 2000 pounds) times 38 pounds per day = $.95 cents per day.

In a three-year study conducted by OSU researchers Dr. Steven Loerch and Dr. Dave Barker they looked at the cost of extending the grazing season, feeding hay and limit-feeding concentrates. Their results indicated that the average winter feed cost per cow per day over the 112 day feeding period for stockpiled pasture system was $.63 cents per day per head, $1.31 per head per day for corn limit-fed cattle, and $1.61 per head per day for cattle wintered on hay. Prices used for the calculations were at $3.80/bu corn, $80/ton hay, and $150/ton supplement. Furthermore, results did not indicate significant differences in cow performance between the three systems.

These results equate to a savings of approximately $1.00 per head/day when comparing the stockpiled pasture system to the hay feeding system. On average for the three-year project, that was a savings of $112 per cow per year for the stockpiled forage. Planning the winter grazing and supplementation program has tremendous impact on farm profitability.

Extending the grazing season, maximizing forage utilization, reducing feed waste, understanding stored forage nutritional composition, and creating a winter feed area all influence profitability. The key to implementing these systems is to look at examples on other farms. Formulate a vision for the winter-feeding system, then seek other resources input for the plan. The local OSU Extension office, Soil and Water Conservation and the Natural Resource Conservation Service have employees knowledgeable on grazing systems and they can be helpful in providing input. Finally, consider planning the entire system and sign-up for the USDA/NRCS, EQIP grazing program. The last part of the winter grazing plan is implementing the plan. By planning first, one may avoid some unnecessary, and potentially costly adjustments later. A well-managed winter-feeding system will greatly reduce the cost of production and is environmentally friendly.