In years when hay and forage production is low due to drought, hay prices often escalate, and in severe cases, forage of any kind may be hard to obtain. In situations such as this, some producers should consider limit feeding concentrate diets to cows.
Depending on the price of grain, nutrients to maintain and grow cattle may be cheaper to purchase through concentrate feeds rather than roughage. This non-traditional approach is often referred to as 'programme feeding' or 'limit feeding'. The basic principle is to feed corn (or some other concentrate energy source) and a supplement in just enough quantities to meet the animal's requirement for maintenance or a targeted level of weight gain.
Generally, a very limited amount of roughage will be fed, or enough to keep the animal's digestive system healthy. The programme is referred to as limit feeding because the diet is much more nutrient dense compared with hay or dry grass, and the amount consumed must be limited. Otherwise, there is no benefit in terms of feed cost savings and the animals get too fleshy.
Limit feeding is not for everyone. In fact, this technique may be limited to a small percentage of cattle producers in Oklahoma, US. Adoption is limited by the additional labour requirement, management skills, feed storage capacity, and the availability of feed bunks, feed delivery equipment, and a well-drained dry lot or sacrifice pasture.
The cost effectiveness of limit feeding for each producer will depend on the alternative forage price, grain price, and price of the supplement needed for the hay or limit feeding programme.
Compared with harvested forage, the nutrient content of corn grain is relatively consistent. According to the US National Research Council, corn is approximately 88 to 90 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN), 10 percent crude protein, and contains 1.02 megacalories (Mcal) of net energy for maintenance (NEm) per pound of dry matter (DM).
However, harvested forage is extremely variable in nutrient content. Consequently, it is important to test hay for nutrient content in order to accurately evaluate and adjust the feeding programme. The value of corn versus hay as an energy source is variable, depending on hay quality as well as the price of hay and corn.
Milo, wheat, soybean hulls, wheat middlings, and corn gluten feed are also good candidates to be incorporated into limit feeding programmes to maintain beef cows. However, there needs to be an awareness of the nutritional characteristics of each of these feeds so that the ration may be adjusted accordingly. Very few by-product feeds can be fed as a single ingredient in complete cattle rations.
Grazing forages has always been and will continue to be the most economical and practical way to maintain beef cows. However, in unique situations, limit feeding may be an economical alternative to purchasing expensive hay.
This article will focus on limit feeding beef cows and is intended to provide some management tips to help producers evaluate the opportunity to utilise this technique.
For more of the article, please click here.
Article made possible through the contribution of Oklahoma State University