Alternative Cattle Feeds

Is it time to make a change?
Cattle at the feed bunk
In my experience, I have found cattle producers to be some of the hardiest and most resilient folks I have ever come across. With that resiliency, is the ability to adapt and make their operation survive in good times and in bad. Most commonly, producers are having to adapt to the economic climate they are in whether it be high input costs, low cattle prices, or a combination of the two. One way producers are handling these tough times is by seeking out alternative feed options. Often times, the term “alternative cattle feeds” carries a negative connotation. The reason for this, is we immediately associate “alternative” with lower quality or throw away scraps from another industry. In some cases, this is true, however, there are exceptions. In these tough economic times in agriculture, it’s vital that producers explore all opportunities to reduce input costs, and increase animal performance.
With the advances we are making in processing and manufacturing, there are a host of new performance driven products arriving on the market for producers to utilize. Not all these products are cost effective, however, many offer producers a non-commoditized option that can increase animal performance and reduce overall input costs. These products can also assist producers in other areas as well. Many of these products are pelleted and can help reduce shrink. They also typically utilize by-products and other feedstuffs as a base and then improve them from there.
Another form of alternative feeds utilized by cattlemen, are the local/regional available feedstuffs. These do fall under the category of waste/by-products from another industry. That being said, not all of them poor quality. For example, distiller’s grains are a relatively cost effective feedstuff that provides quality protein and energy to a cattle ration. Distillers are fairly easy to acquire throughout most of the Midwest which means they are useable by a large number of cattlemen in the United States. Another regional feedstuff would be citrus pulp which is commonly used in Florida cattle operations. Citrus pulp is a highly digestible fiber source that is available I both dried and wet forms and can even be pelleted. It works great in both beef and dairy rations and is readily available near citrus processing plants.
The big question for producers is, how do I determine the value of these alternatives? Well, the first thing is to analyze its feed value. Figure out if it is providing you with additional fiber, protein, or energy. The answer could be a combination of all three. Next you need to look at animal performance. If it will decrease your days on feed, improve rumen health, and decrease or maintain cost of gain, then it probably will work well in your ration. There are also some other factors that need to be looked at that many producers overlook. This would be labor, storage, shelf life, and shrink. A good example of a feedstuff that struggles in all these categories is baled crop residue. Baled residue (typically corn stover) needs to be ground which requires labor time since somebody needs to be there to run the tub grinder. Also, this will greatly increase the shrink on these bales. Storage for large bales is another challenge since they take up a large amount of space and do not have an overly spectacular bulk density. Also, shelf life comes into question since they are typically available right after harvest, and quality will drop dramatically as summer sets in.
An example of a feed product that does well in all these categories is dried distiller’s grain (or DDGs). DDGs can be stored in commodity bays with an adequate shelf life. The labor required in handling is no more than your typical feedstuff and the shrink is not overly alarming either.
 Whether you decided to utilize a locally available, low cost alternative or a performance driven product from a feed producer, alternative feedstuffs bring a lot to the table when decreasing input costs and achieving optimum operation efficiency. Deciding which products to utilize is up to each individual producer and requires a careful, thought out, economic and livestock health and performance based analysis.

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