Friday, March 24, 2017

Making Feed Supplement Decisions

Shaelyn Meyer - Pondera County 

It looks like spring is finally here. The birds are so happy they’re even singing about it and I would too if I thought anyone actually wanted to hear that! On a more serious note (pun intended), considering the long, cold winter we’ve had, some producers might be looking at dwindling feed supplies and be tempted to back off their winter-feeding regime a little early this year. There are a few things to keep in mind when making these feeding decisions and it’s going to involve doing some research, grabbing a pencil and calculator and crunching some numbers. 

A good plan of action this spring is to assess the current average body condition score of your herd. A BCS of 5 or 6 is ideal. Cows with a BCS score under 5 can take longer to re-breed or not re-breed at all, resulting in a longer calving period and fewer calves to ship.  Calves born later in the calving season will likely be lighter at weaning than calves born early in the calving season. A general rule of thumb is that for every 21-day delay in calving, calves will be approximately 35 lbs lighter than calves born in the first 3 weeks of the calving season.

Another thing to consider is the feeding costs involved in increasing the body condition score in your herd. On average, one BCS point = 80 lbs. If you can quantify the amount of feed it will take you to put that much weight on your cows with the feed sources you have available, then compare those costs to the increased revenue from the increase in pregnancy rates, the shorter calving period you may have plus any increase in calf weights at shipping time; you might find that it pays to supplement your herd through the spring. You might also find that it doesn’t pay at all, but you have to make the analysis to know for sure. This is why record-keeping is so important!

The thing that separates good producers from great producers is their understanding of the costs and returns within their operation. If your goal is to take your pregnancy rates from 90% to 95%, you should consider the costs of feeding the first 90% the extra feed that they didn’t require, just to get that last 5% to produce another calf for you. The most cost-effective balance is going to be different for every operation, so if you think your neighbors look pretty successful and copying whatever they do is going to ensure your success, think again! Successful businessmen and women don’t make decisions that way.

Below are some links to more information that might be helpful. If you would like any help in finding the lowest cost/greatest return scenario for you, don't forget about your local extension agent. We're here to help you! 

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