Feed plans needed for cattle farms

Cattle farms across Michigan are dealing with very tight supplies resulting in shortages that may demand detailed feed and forage budgets.

Feed and forage supplies are in short supply this winter which has led to shortages in some parts of Michigan, creating a real need for livestock farms to monitor their inventories. The best practice producers can implement is to plan ahead when it comes to feed supplies.

The drought conditions during 2012 coupled with the continued reduction of hay acres has created a real shortage in hay and forage supplies available to Michigan livestock producers. Short supplies have not only led to higher commodity prices but have also added to the rapid increases in hay prices resulting in today’s record high feed costs. As we are still several months away from when we will be able to harvest another crop of hay, livestock farms need to monitor and project feed and forage supplies.

As a Michigan State University Extension educator, I have found that nearly every livestock farm I have worked with is being challenged with supply management in hopes to maintain any kind of control over their cost of producing cattle or milk.

Most farms have put together a package of feed and forage alternatives that take into consideration any and all feed sources available. In many cases, farms are shifting to feeds that they have never used in the past in order to make their feed budgets last through the winter. One example of this situation would be that hay is now in very limited supply. Many farms have shifted to using dried sugar beet pulp to supplement their rations for cattle and even horses. In checking local prices, farms are finding that the locally produced beet pulp is often cheaper to purchase than baled hay which has hit new record high prices. Each farm will need to develop an individual plan that fits their situation for their livestock. The opportunity to find a cheap feed or forage alternative has passed and may no longer be an option as many farms quickly purchased any feed alternative that appeared to be underpriced in relation to the current high prices of their customary feeds.

Building your feeding plan should start with taking a detailed inventory of what you have and then estimate your farm’s forage needs. It is recommended that you obtain a feed analysis before you purchase any feedstuffs, knowing the quality of the forage is necessary for formulating rations:

  • Consider forage options and where they are best suited based on their quality
  • If you need to purchase forages, hay is already in short supply and its price is increasing as suppliers ration what is left into the market.         

This includes forages targeted toward dry cows and heifers:

  • Target higher energy forages to early lactation cows, high producing cows and fresh cows.
  • Inventory available forages that have been separated by their quality and share these inventories with your nutritionist who can help with the development of a utilization plan. Getting to June is part of the battle as the new crop supply can start to be rebuilt but remember in the long haul the goal is to have a balance feed budget for the next 16 to 18 months until supplies can be rebuilt and stabilized.

Finding forages may be a challenge so you will want to start early to identify supplies and then take action to secure the quantity that you will need to manage your farm’s feed supply for the season.

Developing a feed use budget can help you to manage the impact of changing feeds to make the best use of your current feeds while adding in alternative feeds to stretch your current feed supply until the new crop is available. It is a long time until next Aug.-Sept. when the next corn silage harvest will take place.

Feed and forage supplies are in short supply this winter which has lead to shortages in some parts of Michigan, creating a real need for livestock farms to monitor their inventories. Plan ahead. Finding hay and other forages is much more difficult in today’s situation. You can find a variety of additional resources on the MSU Extension Beef website.

Did you find this article useful?