Controlling Feed Costs

January 12, 2022
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Although farmer yields last year were higher, giving crop farmers a higher income than expected, farmers are always looking for ways to control costs. This allows farmers to budget for smaller crop yields, and for livestock farmers it allows them to grow their operations. There are so many costs of operating a livestock farm, but feed is the only cost you can control.

Uncontrolled Costs Rising
Due to the supply chain and labor market, the uncontrolled costs are continuing to rise. According to Dan Hansen, correspondent for the Wisconsin State Farmer, “producers can expect fuel cost increases of 50-60%, used truck prices 26% higher and labor costs 10-20% higher this year.” If a livestock farmer is also a crop farmer, the uncontrolled costs are even higher with fertilizer and land. These costs are not going to level out anytime soon, so controlling feed costs will be crucial this year.

Five Ways to Reduce Feed Costs
Feed accounts for over half of the cost of operating a livestock farm. If the other percentage is out of your hands, you’ll want to control this cost as much as possible.

Know Your Feed Costs
Knowing the costs of feed per 100 gallons of milk, the income feed cost, and the feed efficiency per pound of milk or dry matter is critical to reducing those costs. To calculate these, you’ll need to know the total mixed ration (TMR), component-fed herds, and feed prices for all ingredients.

Forage Analysis & Productivity
Sample and analyze forage for nutrient analysis is a great way to reduce costs. The nutrients in forage depend on the weather, harvest, storage, etc., but the more you know, the more you can estimate how to supplement properly with alternative feeds. In addition to forage sampling, soil sampling can provide insight as to what to fertilize to maximize
forage productivity.

Close up of calf on animal farm eating food. Meat industry conce

Alternative Feeds
The word “alternative” here is not quite accurate since most midwest operations use these feeds. When the main feed is grown on your land, these additional feedstuffs will save money and provide a well-rounded diet for your livestock. According to the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Ag Decision Maker, “They are almost always a cheaper energy and/or protein source when compared with other commercially available supplements. These feedstuffs also are low in starch and high in digestible fiber which complement a forage-based diet extremely well.” For both cattle and pigs, these alternative feeds can typically be purchased at 90% of corn or less, making it a cost-effective way to supplement their diet.

Grazing Season
In the midwest, the grazing season is typically April through November, but extending this grazing season can save on the cost of alternative feed. Extending the season and allowing cattle to graze on leftover corn can give you about 60 more days of feed on average. Some cattle operations even have a winter grazing rotation. Cool-season grasses and stockpiling forage can reduce costs and allow your cattle to graze longer.

Cattle Genetics
This may not be an option for all operations, but just know it is coming down the pipe. Researchers are now able to track cattle for feed efficiency and analyze their genetics. With this new research, it will be possible to determine the cattle needing less feed with high productivity. Farmers will then be able to breed those cattle to create the most efficient operation possible.

Controlling feed costs comes down to analyzing and tracking everything you can. The more data you collect, the more you will be able to plan and reduce your costs. In 2022, costs for everything from land to machinery are going up and up, so it is crucial to keep this controllable cost down.