With the recent cold fronts that have blanketed the area supplemental feeding of livestock is a necessity to maintain production goals. However, feed is one of the 3 Fís that are generally some of the biggest variable expenses on a livestock producerís balance sheet. The other two Fís being fertilizer and fuel. Any of these 3 Fís can easily be reduced, even eliminated from a producerís budget if they become too excessive. But at what cost to production?

Prudent stock managers can manage feeding cost while still maintaining feed goals. After pasture the second cheapest source of nutrition is normally hay. But not all hay is of equal quality and that can have a major impact on a producers feed costs.

Recently we collected forage samples from 6 sets hay bales of varying type being sold and fed by a local producer for our Coastal Bend Beef Cattle Field Day. Forage types included Bluestem, Coastal, Tifton 85 and Forage Sorghum. In the above samples the best quality of hay was the forage sorghum with 12.6% CP and 49% TDN. Crude protein (CP) content ranged from 4.2 to 12.6% in these bales. Looking at only bermudagrass samples they ranged from 4.2 to 6.6%. This highlights the wide range of quality that can be found in hay being marketed. Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) varied similarly, ranging from 45.7 to 48.8%.

A lactating cow requires a diet of between 10-12% CP and 60% TDN, where a dry pregnant cow needs 8-10% CP and 50% TDN. If we were feeding dry cows the forage sorghum bales mentioned above we could effectively meet their nutrient requirement by feeding each cow 24 lbs of hay and no additional supplement daily. Other hays required additional supplementation; up to 2 lbs of 38% Breeder Cubes. This is not an unreasonable supplementation requirement, but it highlights the value of knowing the quality of forages you have on hand.

A producer should provide supplemental nutrients with minimal feed inputs. By knowing the quality of forages to be fed producers can more confidently make adjustments to their feed budget without sacrificing performance of the animal. Therefore, producers are encouraged to sample forages before feeding and prior to purchase if possible.

Producers should also consider the cost of different forms of supplements on a nutrient basis. If you buy range cubes that are 20% crude protein (CP) for $11 a sack, you are paying $1.10 a pound for CP (50 lbs X 20% CP = 10 lbs CP; $11 / 10 lbs CP = $1.10 / lb. CP). Other forms of supplementation may provide a higher or lower cost source of CP supplementation. For example, a 1,000 lb. bale of 10% CP hay at $85 a bale is still cheaper ($0.85 / lb. CP) than the cubes. The formula above will help in determining exactly which supplement offers the most value on a nutrient basis.

However, cost alone should not be the determining factor when choosing a supplement. The supplement a producer chooses to feed needs to meet the objectives of his or her particular program. Generally there are three reasons for supplementation: cattle performance is low but forage availability is not limiting, cattle performance is low and forage quality and quantity may or may not be limiting, or cattle performance is fine but forage availability is anticipated to limit performance in the future. Producers should recognize what situation theyíre currently in and adjust their supplementation program accordingly.

Oklahoma State University has an excellent tool for assessing a potential supplementation program called Cowculator 2.0. It is an Excel based program that allows you to enter information about your feedstuffs, cow condition, and her production stage. The program can then predict animal performance based on the entered information. The program has a built in feed list of commercial feeds, grains, and forages. The balancer section can then be used to see how different supplementation scenarios impact predicted animal performance. Cowculator 2.0 is free and can easily be found and downloaded off the internet. For more information or publications on livestock production contact use at 361.767.5223 or visit use on the web at http://nueces.agrilife.org.

Individuals with disabilities, who require an auxiliary aid, service or accommodation in order to participate in any of the mentioned activities, are encouraged to contact the County Extension Office eight days before all programs for assistance. Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin.