The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 9, 2013

How can we improve feed efficiencies?

By Rick Nelson, Extended Forecast
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Regardless of the weather and availability of feed, wintering cows is an expensive venture.

Winter is not quite over, so providing cows a cost-effective diet is still a concern, and there is no dramatic new technology to solve those challenges. So, improving dietary or management efficiencies will be the key for the remainder of this season, and in planning for next winter.

Researchers at Oklahoma State University conducted a trial to collect data to support various management decisions regarding how hay can be fed to minimize waste and whether a feed additive may contribute to digestive efficiency to reduce the amount of hay cows need for performance.

Recent attention has been given to hay feeders, where common sense applies — management or feeders that minimize waste decrease hay costs and improve profitability.  Newly designed cone-shaped hay feeders that funnel hay to the middle of a round feeder reduce waste substantially.  

Cone hay feeders had only 5 percent hay waste in the OSU research, compared to 21 percent for open-bottom hoop feeders. Feeders with a simple metal skirt around the bottom reduced waste to 13 percent.

Feeding an ionophore, such as Rumensin or Bovatec, to cows also has generated producer interest. Those products improve weight gain in stocker cattle and feed efficiency in feedlot cattle, so can we expect the same with cows?

Cows typically are fed a supplement to balance any protein or energy deficiencies in average to low quality hay. OSU workers have demonstrated that including 200 mg Rumensin in the supplement fed to cows maintained cow body weight and condition with less hay being fed.  

This research demonstrated that cows needed 10 percent less hay than those feed supplements without the feed additive. Basically, the key to savings is restricting the amount of hay fed.

If a producer has the ability to hand feed cows a certain amount of properly supplemented hay, efficiencies of its use will improve, hay expenses will decline and cow condition will remain constant when Rumensin is fed.

If however, hay is not limited, cows still will be more efficient, but hay consumption will remain as it was, perhaps greater, with improved cow performance over what may have already been acceptable. In the OSU study, cows fed Rumensin were allowed access to hay only six hours daily.

All treatment groups in this research achieved the same weight gain and body condition.

Producers typically allot at least two tons of hay for each cow in the winter. If a change in management or feed efficiency results in 10-15 percent hay savings that may result in a change in profitability of $20 per cow.

It’s not a lot of money by itself, but coupled with other management strategies, it may contribute to whether a producer can maintain the size of their cowherd or have to sell some.

Producers wanting information on these practices should contact their local extension office for advice on how to adapt these and other management techniques to their operation.

Nelson is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service agriculture educator for Garfield County.