January 2008
Featured Articles

Know Your Feeds and Feeding Costs for Your Livestock

By  Robert Spencer

The drought of 2007 has not been conducive for hay production. Despite this, I have been fortunate enough to acquire abundant varieties and quantities of hay; and costs have been very reasonable. The varieties I acquired included crabgrass; Sericea Lespedeza; orchardgrass; rye and alfalfa; and wheat, rye and oat. I am telling you this to illustrate if someone like me can obtain an abundant supply of hay at an "affordable" price, anyone can. It may have taken me seven years to develop these contacts, but it has been worth the effort.

The other thing I did this past summer is to spend time evaluating my feeds and feeding costs. Call it too much time on my hands, but it has been a valuable learning experience! I encourage you to take the time to do the same. When doing this, avoid spending time wondering if raising livestock is worth the money; that can be done after the calculations are complete. After all, we all know farmers farm for the glory, personal satisfaction and quality of life.

In addition to analyzing my hay costs, I took the time to analyze my concentrated feed options and costs. My options include reformulated rations available at my local Quality Co-op, custom formulated rations from a local feed mill and purchasing bulk quantities of soybean hull pellets and/or cottonseed and/or corn.

I have said in the past, and continue to believe, the cheapest is not always the best choice. You can manage feed costs but you don’t want to short-change your animals in the process. I prefer a commercial or custom formulated ration because it is professionally balanced to meet the nutritional requirements of livestock. It may not be the least expensive but, to me, it is more practical in the long run. Buying bulk quantities of feed grains may necessitate the need for second guessing what additional supplements may be necessary, which can compromise herd health.

Take time to look at the table. It views two aspects: actual costs in comparison to projected (in theory) feed costs. The approach was based on each animal consuming the following quantities of supplemental feed and hay: (1) grain based rations, approximately .75 pound per animal (assumed average of 125 pound animal); and (2) various types of hay, approximately two percent of body weight (125 lb animal), two and one-half pounds per day. Keep in mind the normal estimated consumption of vegetation (hay and grass) per adult is estimated at four percent. In this study, I am assuming all animals have access to grazing and included kids and adults when calculating the average animal weight of 125 pounds.

I will be the first to admit I found several bargains, this helped keep my hay costs reasonable. And, I get a good deal on my custom mixed feed. Note the modest difference in projected costs versus actual costs. My farm situation dictates some goats rely on limited pasture, some have none. Those with pasture receive supplemental concentrated feed and hay. Those without pasture receive more feed and hay. Adjusting herd numbers will affect the amount of supplemental feed and hay required.

Another point of interest is estimating weight of feed. I’ve always heard the recommended amount of supplemental feed per animal may vary from one-half pound to a pound per adult animal. Up to this time, during my seven years of raising goats, I have never weighed my scoops of feed. All I know is my goats were fed by the scoop (some people use coffee cans). I was really shocked when I recently took the time to weigh one of my scoops of feed, a full scoop of feed weighed 2.2 pounds! Turns out I was feeding my goats in excess of one pound of 16% protein feed per animal. No wonder my goats are "well conditioned" (a term I wish my doctor would learn to use when discussing my body condition).

I share this information for two reasons. (1) Other than tax time, I normally do not pay attention to my actual feed and feeding costs; the animals must be fed. The time I took to do all this forced me realize how much I feed and spend per animal and per herd, annually; and the cost of it all. (2) I hope this information will make it easier for you to do the same.

Robert Spencer is the Urban Regional Extension Specialist in the Urban Affairs and Nontraditional Programs Unit & The Urban Centers in North Alabama for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.