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Cost Effective Cattle Feeding

Whilst it is the aim of every producer to maximise their margin, this is not always by feeding cattle as cheap as possible because if a cheap ration results in poor performance it is no longer cheap, but very expensive.

Whilst it is the aim of every producer to maximise their margin, this is not always by feeding cattle as cheap as possible because if a cheap ration results in poor performance it is no longer cheap, but very expensive.

The first question you need to ask yourself is what level of performance you realistically want or need.  Do you want youngstock to grow at 0.85kg/day or 1.3kg/day? Do you want to finish cattle at 18 months or 28 months? Do your cows peak at 28 litres or 48 litres?  

It is only once you have answered these questions that you can start to formulate the most cost-effective ration and select feeds that will maximize your profitability by supporting your desired level of performance but at the lowest daily feed cost.

So, where do you start?

The first aim of a cost-effective ration is to feed as much forage as you both have in store and that quality will allow.  If silage is low in ME (Under 10.2 ME), high in NDF (Over 50%) and low in protein (under 10.5%) then not only will performance be limited due to a lack of energy, but intake potential will also be lower because the silage will stay in the rumen for longer.  The result is a requirement to feed higher levels of concentrates in order to maintain performance, but at a higher cost.

In contrast, if you always set out to cut young leavy grass at its optimum growth stage, rather than by calendar date, the resulting silage is high in ME (Over 11 ME), soft with a low level of NDF (Under 45%) and high in protein (Over 13%).  This opens the opportunity to feed high levels of low-cost forage without sacrificing performance and with a lower requirement for more expensive concentrate supplementation (see Fig.1).  

In short, the first aim of a cost-effective feeding strategy is to produce as much high-quality silage as you possibly can and reduce the quantity of concentrates that you need to buy.

Fig.1 The effect of silage quality on level of forage inclusion and cost of a youngstock growing ration.

What type of concentrate to choose?

Once you have your silage in the pit and analysed, the next focus is to determine what the most cost-effective concentrate, not the cheapest, is required to complement the silage and supplement your ration.

With power prices set to remain high, the costs associated with grinding and manufacturing compound makes this the most expensive choice of concentrate.  Added to which, you not only have little idea of the exact formulation but as a compressed flour, when compounds break down and disintegrate in the rumen, they pose a very real and significant risk of rumen and hindgut acidosis.

As a direct reflection of the high cost of running the compound press, many compounders are now promoting the use of meals in TMR rations. However, although these are undoubtedly cheaper than compound, physically they are still very fine and, as well as more easily sorted out by cattle, also pose the same acidosis risk as compound.

A more economic and effective option is to feed a high quality blend in the TMR and through the parlour.  These blends typically contain the raw materials in their natural state and as a result are chunky and more slowly degraded in the rumen.  Because you can also clearly see what ingredients are in a blend then they also tend to be higher in energy and ideally contain only tried and trusted raw materials that you would otherwise buy as a straight.

How about a Home Mix?

With cereal prices currently low and not having taken the typical new year jump in price, there is also a great opportunity to go one step further and instead buy in and maximise the quantity of cereal included in your rations.

Of course, feeding high levels of cereals on their own will pose a potential increased acidosis risk.  However, if you firstly alkaline treat these cereals with products such as ALpHA from Norvite, then you are left with a cereal with a pH of 9, which helps buffer rumen acids and reduce the risk of acidosis even when feeding levels of cereals that would traditionally be unthinkable.

In addition, ALpHA treating grain increases its protein content by 3.5% resulting in grain at 13.5% protein (16% on a DM basis). This reduces your bought in protein requirement by up to 40-60% and completely removes the need for any feed protein at all in finishing rations.  The result is a further significant drop in your concentrate feed bill with no reduction in energy content – it is after all 100% cereal.

Alpha treated cereals can be fed to cattle and sheep of any age, from 3-day old dairy calves, through to older youngstock, sucklers, dry cows, milkers and finishing cattle and lambs.  This versatility makes them ideal to make simple, high energy, cost-effective home mixes for any class or age of animal that you have on farm (See Fig.2)

Fig.2. Costed examples of Home-mixes incorporating alkaline treated cereal

Alpha treatment also presents you with an opportunity to further reduce you bought in feed protein costs by using it to treat home grown or local beans or peas.  The result is a protein feed with the same protein content as distillers but with the addition benefit of bypass starch and at 80% of the cost (See Fig.3)

Fig.3. Analysis and cost comparison between Wheat Distillers and Alpha treated Beans

Of course, every farm is different, with different silage qualities, opportunities, and requirements and not every feed solution will be suitable.  However, if you would like to learn more or for assistance in deciding which feeding option may best suit your situation, then please ask your local Norvite representative for more information.

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