November 2006
Feeding Facts



Cattle producers continue to be faced with decisions on what to feed this fall and winter.  As a nutritionist, it is my responsibility to assist you in making the best decision for your livestock. This decision is based upon meeting the nutritional requirements of your animal at the least amount of cost to you, the cattle producer.

With this statement in mind, I am often asked how you can justify the differences in cost between an ingredient and a complete feed.  As a rule of thumb, an ingredient is an individual component of a complete feed.  A complete feed combines several ingredients to furnish your cattle a complete and balanced diet.

I am often asked the differences in a complete feed that is 13% crude protein, 68 Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) and an ingredient that is 13% crude protein and 68 TDN.  There are several types of protein that make up a crude protein percentage.  Digestible Protein, Soluble Protein, Undegradable Protein, and By-Pass Protein are the types of proteins that your cattle require to maintain rumen function and overall peak performance.  A complete feed is designed to provide your cattle with each type of protein at the percentage required to meet the daily requirements for that protein.

An ingredient will provide you protein, but will not provide the type and percentage of proteins that your animal will require.  The same can be said for TDN. A complete feed combines sugars, starches, and fats to meet the total needs of your cattle for energy, while an ingredient will normally provide most of its energy from either starches or fats but not both.  The third benefit of a complete feed is that it will provide additional minerals, vitamins and other performance enhancing ingredients that an ingredient will not provide.

After explaining the crude differences between a complete feed and ingredients, I am still asked, “How can I feed a complete feed for $160.00 a ton while an ingredient will cost me $120.00 a ton?”  Let’s look at this question in more detail.

As a producer, you must ask yourself one question.  Am I feeding to meet the daily requirements of my cattle, or am I feeding just to be feeding?  There is a huge difference in these two situations. 

As a cattle producer, you should feed to meet the daily nutrient requirements of your cows.  If you fail to feed to meet the nutrient requirements of your cows, then your cattle will experience such problems as weight loss, depressed weight gain, lost milk production and reproductive failures.

The most efficient use of your cattle is to feed to meet their daily requirements.  Let’s look at some examples of a complete versus ingredient feeding program to meet the requirements of your cattle.  After feeding hay, let’s say that you still need to provide an additional 10 pounds of energy and two pounds of protein to meet your cow’s daily requirement.

You have two feeds to choose between. An ingredient for $120 a ton that is 10% protein and a TDN of 65% and a complete feed that is $160 a ton with 13% protein and 70 TDN.  To meet the additional requirement for proteins and energy when feeding the ingredient diet, you would need to feed 20 pounds of feed to meet both the protein and TDN requirements of the cow. At $120.00 a ton, that would cost you $1.20 per cow/per day plus an additional 6 cents in minerals for a total cost of $1.26. To meet the additional requirements for protein and energy when feeding a complete diet, you would feed 15 pounds to meet the additional protein and energy requirements.  At $160.00 a ton, it would cost you $1.20 per cow/per day plus an additional 3 cents in minerals (complete feed will furnish most minerals) for a total of $1.23 per cow/per day.  This example used soyhulls against AFC 13% with Bovatec.  From this example, you can feed a complete feed that meets all the requirements for nutrients, provides the additional benefits of Bovatec for less money per cow/per day.  I hope this example will provide you with some answers to the question of feeding a low cost ingredient versus a complete feed.

Another question, I would like to address is, can you justify a new creep feeder to creep feed calves?  A new 3- ton pull creep feeder will cost you around $3000.00 through your local Co-op.  A good creep feed will cost you $160.00 a ton. The final piece to this puzzle will be that research has proven that calves will wean 70 pounds heavier than non-crept fed calves.  Research also proves that 13% with Bovatec will put a pound of gain to every 6 pounds of feed that calves consume during this time.

Let’s now justify the cost of the creep feeder.  A $3000.00 creep feeder will depreciate out to a net cost of $2000.00.  If you have 40 calves that weigh 70 pounds heavier at weaning, that is an additional 2800 pounds of marketable beef.  The feed consumed for the additional 2800 pounds will be 16,800 pounds of feed for a total feed cost of $1,344.00.  The difference between a calf at 500 pounds ($1.12 a pound) and 570 ($1.09 a pound) will be an additional $60.00 per calf for creep feeding.  When you look at the additional $2400.00 from heavier calves minus the $1344.00 for feed cost = $1056.00 extra each year.  With these figures, you will pay for a creep feeder in 2 years.

By creep feeding, you will also get the added benefit of less stress on your cows as well as on your grass and hay.  This will be an excellent way to help reduce hay use during a drought year such as this.

I hope these two examples will provide you with some information to consider when making decisions on how to get the very best return on your investment.  If I can ever be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me.  I hope that each of you have a Happy Thanksgiving filled with many blessings and I look forward to talking to you in the days ahead.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.