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Calculating winter feed costs for beef cows

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SEDALIA, Mo. – Escalating costs for hay and supplements has many cattle producers concerned, especially in the face of very poor pasture conditions and limited hay supplies in some areas of the state.

Current feed costs have been run through the University of Missouri Extension Beef Cow Feed Cost Dashboard spreadsheet to estimate daily feed costs for a beef cow. The dashboard is an Excel spreadsheet that was developed to estimate winter feed costs for beef cows based on varying quality and price of hay, comparing fall- and spring-calving cows and purchased vs. raised hay.

Input prices are current from a local feed supplier and Missouri Department of Agriculture estimates for hay prices of varying quality. Raised hay prices are based on 2022 MU Cropping Budgets. Spring-calving cows are assumed to be dry and in mid-gestation.

Hay prices: Good hay, $150 per ton; fair hay, $125 per ton; poor hay, $115 per ton, based on reported prices per bale and estimating a 1,200-pound bale weight. Raised hay was estimated to have a value of $90 per ton, regardless of nutrient quality. Hay quality was classified by USDA standards for protein and total digestible nutrients (TDN).

Several diets using various ingredients were calculated within each hay quality classification to get a median supplement cost for each type of hay. Average supplement per head per day for dry spring-calving cows, including salt and mineral, was 2 pounds of supplement for good hay, 3.2 pounds of supplement for fair hay and 5.2 pounds of supplement for poor hay. Fall-calving cows averaged needing 2.8 pounds of supplement for good hay, 4.8 pounds of supplement for fair hay and 6.3 pounds of supplement for poor hay.

The breakdown of feed costs per head per day for spring-calving cows is as follows. For purchased hay: good hay, $2.68; fair hay, $2.38; poor hay, $2.48. For raised hay, daily feed cost is estimated to be $1.75 for good hay, $1.86 for fair hay and $2.15 for poor hay.

Fall-calving cows have higher feed costs due to lactation. Using purchased hay prices, estimates of daily feed cost are $2.90 for good hay, $2.68 for fair hay and $2.68 for poor hay. Fall-calving cows fed raised hay have estimated daily feed costs of $1.94 for good hay, $2.16 for fair hay and $2.34 for poor hay.

These feed cost estimates do not include hay waste in the calculations. Poorer quality hay can be expected to have higher feed waste than higher quality hay, and this needs to be considered in calculating your per head feed costs.

These calculations are based on reasonable estimates of hay quality for each hay quality classification and should be used for comparison and planning purposes only. A hay test costs about $20 and provides information to more accurately calculate supplemental feed needs than these estimates.

These estimates are designed to give cow/calf producers a general idea of winter feed costs based on current prices. They may help with the decision to keep or sell livestock and to buy or not buy additional hay or other feed supplies.

Before making these decisions, however, producers should have a clear understanding of their feed inventories, the quality of the hay inventory, the necessity and amount of additional supplement that may be needed and the cost of feed ingredients. Weigh the potential for large amounts of waste, bringing in weed seeds and other factors before making a final decision on whether to purchase additional feed resources. There are other implications associated with selling off cows or bred heifers, so those need to be considered as well.

If you would like additional assistance with any winter feeding decisions, interpreting hay test results or assessing supplemental feed needs, contact your local MU Extension livestock field specialist.

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