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10 ways to cut cattle feeding costs

Lower grain prices will help with cattle feeding costs, but there are other ways to remain profitable

While cow-calf profits have remained near record highs, cattle feeders have suffered losses of historic proportions in some months, says Iowa Beef Center director Dan Loy. Lower grain and feed prices may help keep cattle producers afloat in the months ahead, but that is only part of the picture for feedlots to remain competitive and profitable.

Loy offers his top 10 tips for cutting cattle feeding costs:

1. Good records. Monitoring feedlot performance and costs allows producers to make midcourse corrections. This is particularly important as feed costs rise and cattle prices change. Knowing current costs of production is essential to making timely marketing and management decisions.

2. Purchase cost. Purchase cost often is the largest single cost associated with a finished beef animal. Careful budgeting prior to purchase is extremely important in times of narrow margins. Good records of previous close-outs and past history of cattle from a source is useful in projecting cattle performance. Often the cheapest cattle may not be the most profitable depending on performance and efficiency. Use realistic cost and price projections when budgeting for new feeder cattle, and pay close attention to market conditions. Periods of low prices and price volatility can create opportunities for the astute cattle buyer.

3. Feed bunk management. Managing feed bunks more closely can improve efficiency by reducing the incidence of low level acidosis on high grain rations. Using a bunk scoring system, or some method to reduce feed waste, can pay greater dividends during periods of high grain costs. An added benefit may be more consistent performance and better efficiency by eliminating the day-to-day variation in feed consumption. Good feed bunk management also includes proper feed mixing and accurate weighing of feed ingredients.

4. Alternative feedstuffs. Even with low-cost corn, alternative feeds may help lower costs. Your best bet is to look locally for feeds that may have a transportation cost advantage in your ration. Corn coproducts may still be an opportunity but changes in the ethanol industry have introduced variability and changes in value.

5. Feed Additives. Ionophores like Bovatec, Cattylst, and Rumensin will improve efficiency 4 to 10 percent, depending on the type of ration fed. As feed costs increase, the payback for improved efficiency is much greater. Optaflexx (a beta-agonist) will improve carcass gain in the last 28 days of feeding.

6. Implants. Implants are another technology that improves efficiency. Implant technologies and strategies can improve efficiency 10 to 15%. Learn about the differences in implants and choose the one that matches your cattle and management practices.

7. Marketing. Limited beef supplies in recent months have encouraged heavier market weights. Timely marketing can significantly reduce the cost of production however. The tradeoffs between cost of gain, increased dressing percentage and carcass value changes need to be continually monitored.

8. Receiving and health programs. Getting cattle off to a fast and healthy start can cut costs and minimize death losses. Talk to your veterinarian about up-to-date vaccination protocols and make sure both your veterinarian and nutritionist are on the same page with your receiving program.

9. Mineral supplementation. Evaluate your mineral supplementation program. Are you feeding a supplement or balancer that is complete with minerals and supplementing minerals free choice? If your mineral is a free choice mineral, is it the right one? Phosphorous is one of the most expensive nutrients added to most mineral supplements. On a high corn or corn coproduct ration, supplemental phosphorous likely isn't needed.

10. Do the little things. Basic management that requires little more than time can pay big rewards in improving efficiency when feed costs are high. These include routine water maintenance and cleaning, feeding cattle at the same time every day, handling cattle to reduce stress, and maintaining quality control on feed ingredients.

Source: Iowa Beef Center

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