Haying season is drawing to a close across South Dakota. With that comes a feed inventory analysis opportunity for each producer, explains Heather Gessner, SDSU Extension Livestock Business Management Field Specialist.

"Producers should look at the quality of the feed in storage to ensure they have enough bales to create a balanced ration which meets the nutritional requirements of their cow herd, through each gestational stage and post calving," Gessner said.

To determine feed quality, Gessner said samples must be taken and submitted for analysis. "The adage of needing to measure it, before you manage it is true here," she said.

Gessner added that many factors can affect the quality of grass hay and alfalfa harvested during the summer. "Knowing if you have high or low total digestible nutrients (TDN) and/or protein available allows the producer to plan for additional hay, cornstalk and alfalfa or other forage purchases, as well as non-forage supplements needed to meet the nutritional needs of mid-late gestation and post-partum cows."

In a beef cow enterprise, feed costs account for 50 to 75 percent of the total cow costs for the year. "Controlling costs is a critical profit component for the producer," Gessner said.

Analysis ensures quality

Forages vary in price, dry matter and quality, thus creating a balanced, low cost ration can likely be done, if time is taken to run the numbers and work through the options available, Gessner said. "Before purchasing hay or alfalfa, a forage analysis and a comparison between forages should be done to ensure the product's quality and cost meets the needs of the producer."

Referencing table 1, Gessner said that at first glance the $10/ton savings for the grass hay compared to alfalfa appears to be a solid economic decision. "However, if protein is needed to supplement, then the alfalfa is a better option."

She added that comparing other forages, like corn silage, can also be done to create a balanced, least cost ration. "By inventorying the feed on hand and analyzing the feed needed producers will be able to determine what, if any additional feedstuffs are needed," Gessner said.


To learn more, visit iGrow.org or for assistance balancing rations, contact an SDSU Extension Cow Calf Field Specialist.