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Coping with sky-high feed

Gene Johnston 11/06/2013 @ 11:12am On the scene at the 2012 Cattle Convention, Nashville

The hits just keep coming to the cattle-feeding industry, the most recent being last summer’s drought. There are some things you can do to gain a few more cents in feedlot efficiencies to cope with sky-high feed, says Dan Loy, beef nutrition specialist at Iowa State University.

Use technology

Loy says implant technology may be the most important tool you have for improving bottom-line profitability in a feedlot. The various estrogen, androgen, and combination implants can improve daily gains up to 20% and feed efficiency by 15%. They can reduce the total cost of producing beef by 10%. The advantage to implants is magnified when feed costs are as high as today.

Loy analyzed a University of Minnesota summary of 50 feedlot research trials involving implants, with an average improvement of 17% in average daily gain and near 10% in feed efficiency. When corn was about $3 a bushel, those performance improvements reduced the feed cost of gain by about 5¢ a pound. With corn at or above $7 a bushel, the improved efficiency from implants shaves the feed cost by 11¢ a pound, from about 95¢ to 84¢ per pound of animal gain. 

“Even accounting for the reduction in carcass quality to implants, there is a $20-per-head to $40-per-head advantage for using implants in the feedlot today,” says Loy.

Stop the waste

It is sobering how much feed can be lost to shrink and waste on a typical farm feedlot, notes Loy. While difficult to measure precisely, estimates of feed waste paint an ugly picture. Corn coproducts such as dried distillers’ grains (DDGs) stored outside in open and uncovered piles can lose 15% to 30% before getting to the feed bunk. If you are handling soybean meal on a windy day, 8% to 9% of it can disappear to the countryside. Corn silage stored in a bunker silo will have losses to waste and spoilage that start at about 5% and go as high as 50% if it is harvested at the wrong time and is packed improperly. 

Loy says commodity feed storage sheds can help. In one estimate he made, a 750-head feedlot could build a right-size shed for $10,000 to $12,000. If it cut feed losses by just 5%, it might pay for itself in as little as one year.

As for proper silage handling, Loy says it should be harvested and stored at 60% to 70% moisture, then packed by a single-track tractor in layers of only about 10 inches or less at a time. Proper packing and covering with an oxygen barrier can cut silage losses in half, maybe from 20% down to 10%. 

You can save more silage by using proper face management (the front wall of the pile) when you feed it out. As you feed daily, strip off a layer from the pile face of just what you need that day (about 1 foot at a time), and you’ll have less spoilage as you work through the pile.

Do all you can to control birds and rodents that have access to feed sheds and feed bunks, Loy adds. An individual starling can eat 2 pounds of feed a month, and they travel in flocks of thousands.

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