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Poor forage production in drought areas across South Dakota have created forage shortages for some producers. Typically, beef cow/calf producers depend on pasture production as the primary feed ingredient for summer-feeding programs. Lack of forage has producers looking for alternative feeding strategies to get through summer as well as the upcoming winter months. Research has shown that a variety of feedstuffs can be utilized to meet the cows’ nutrient requirements with similar performance to a forage based diet.
Current corn prices (~$3.20 per bushel) are very competitive for inclusion beef cow diets compared to published prices for harvested forages. Corn or corn-based by-products can be used to substitute for forages and save on daily feed costs.
Meeting Nutritional Needs
Research at Ohio State University reported that pregnant beef cows can be fed as little as 3 pounds of hay plus corn and supplements to meet nutrient requirements. Purdue University research has also shown that late gestation cows could be successfully fed diets where hay was limited to 0.5 or 1.0 percent of bodyweight (dry matter basis). Rations were balanced to meet nutrient requirements, and performance (weight gain) was equal or greater compared to cows receiving hay at 2% of body weight. In both of these research projects, corn plus a protein supplement were used to balance the ration.
Table 1 shows a couple of examples of rations that meet the nutritional needs for a 1,300 pound dry cows. Limit feeding corn reduces forage requirements by 50% compared to a full-feed hay diet. In the two examples using corn, cows are allocated 0.5% of their body weight in forage dry matter (1,300 x 0.005 = 6.5 pounds DM; 6.5/.88 (88% DM of forage = 7.4 pounds as-fed). Based on the prices used, incorporation of high amounts of corn reduced the feed cost/day and stretched the forage supply. It is very important to note that although nutritional requirements of these cows are met, her appetite is not.
Switching from a forage-based system to a concentrate-based ration creates some management considerations.
The Bottom Line
At current feed prices, substituting corn for forage is a viable option to feed beef cows. For operations with the right facilities and management ability, replacing forage with corn can stretch forage supplies and potentially reduce feed costs.
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