Feed costs represent the largest annual operating cost for most commercial cow-calf enterprises.
In order to maintain an optimum balance between feed costs and production, you must analyze feeds and use these analyses to formulate rations and/or supplements, according to Rick Rasby and Jeremy Martin with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Feedstuffs vary widely in nutrient concentration due to location, harvest date (maturity), year and other management practices. You can use tabular values if necessary, but it is important to remember that they are average values and that significant variation exists. On a dry matter basis, energy can easily vary ±10%, crude protein ±15% and minerals by a much greater margin.
Once you collect a feed sample properly (see Sampling Feeds for Analysis), you can analyze it for nutrients. Most commercial laboratories offer standard feed tests for forages, grains or total mixed rations. Rasby and Martin recommend analyzing cattle feeds for moisture, protein and energy. Furthermore, you may wish to identify key minerals or minor nutrients of interest. Typically, you’ll report results on an as-is and dry-matter basis. You should always balance nutrients on a dry-matter basis because nutrient requirements for beef cattle are reported on a dry-matter basis. After formulation on a dry-matter basis, you can convert values to an as-is basis (using the moisture content of the feed) to determine the actual amount of feed (as-is) that should be fed.
You can analyze feedstuffs using a traditional wet chemistry technique or near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIR). You can analyze samples more quickly, and usually cheaper, using NIR. However, NIR is only useful for feedstuffs and ingredients that have been well characterized using wet chemistry. Therefore, be sure to ask the laboratory if their database for your particular sample is extensive enough to ensure accurate results, particularly if you are analyzing less common feedstuffs.
The primary focus of this module is on understanding and applying the results from a commercial feed analysis. Use this chart to list common nutrients and the units in which they are reported.
Download Feed Ingredients and Their Units of Measure & Feed Analysis Terminology and Explanations.
Below, Denise Schwab, northeast Iowa extension beef specialist, helps you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to comparing feed costs in this version of Iowa Beef Center’s #FeedyardFriday.