Finding convenience food for cows

After being married, my wife and I would buy food from a company that drives right up to your home, shows you the catalog of goodies, you select and make payment for it, and they bring it to your door. Man, was that great. It was convenient, the gentleman always was nice and the food was good.

Then one day, I mentioned something about this to a county agent friend of mine who had been married for a while and had two kids, and he referred to that as convenience food. Yes, even though we tried to buy items that were on sale, I guess in reality, we knew it still was costing us more than going to the grocery store, but it sure was convenient.

Then fast-forward into our marriage a few more years, and we have two children. I soon realized we no longer could afford that convenience food delivered to our front door. In agriculture, we also have convenience food for cows, or maybe to put it more candid, convenience food for the cattleman -- in the form of protein supplements more conveniently fed in various forms where the cattle have it at their discretion 24/7.

Am I saying this is a bad thing? No, but what I am saying is you might be paying extra for the convenience. Each individual operation is unique and has to figure out what is most cost-effective for them, i.e. distance to deliver the protein, and how often protein should be delivered. Delivering protein to cows has a price tag attached, no matter what form and how often.

Pondering thoughts, put a pencil to it -- whatever you want to call it. Here are some things to consider in reducing winter feed costs, and of course, this is nothing new. Pick up any popular ag magazine, and you will read this as well.

Do the cows even need protein supplement yet? You don't know unless you get a feed analysis of your hay or feed. If it is 8 percent crude protein and your cows are of moderate size (1,100 pounds) and moderate flesh, chances are they might not need additional protein until after calving. Of course, common sense has to prevail with weather changes as colder temperatures and wind chills, dry versus wet hair coat would require more energy rather than protein. Also, larger cows and cows that produce above-average milk production will consume more forage and need more supplement to match their requirements.

Frequency of delivery of protein is another consideration. Recent research at the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center in Hays concluded supplementing cows on winter pasture with adequate standing forage with protein as infrequently as every six days did not negatively affect cow body weight or body-condition score.

Producers can reduce cost using Dried Distillers Grain Soluble as an inexpensive protein source and can reduce labor and fuel costs with infrequent delivery.

The study used DDGS as the protein supplement due to price and availability. Other studies have shown similar results that protein can be supplemented every other day to once per week. As always, cows do need access to quality free choice mineral and salt.

Do the math. To determine total pounds and then cost of a nutrient on a dry matter basis such as crude protein (CP): Step 1 -- Determine total pounds of a nutrient in 1 ton of feed. 2,000 pounds of 17 percent CP alfalfa hay at 90 percent dry matter equals 306 pounds of CP dry. Step 2 -- Determine cost per pound of actual nutrient. Do this by dividing the ton price of feed by the pounds of actual nutrient contained in that ton ($130 per ton alfalfa hay divided by 306 pounds of CP dry equals 43 cents per pound of protein on a dry matter basis).

As cow-calf operators know, more than 50 percent of the total yearly cost of running or owning a cow is tied up in winter feeding costs.

Reducing winter feed costs and not negatively affecting cow body weight or body condition score can improve net revenue (income minus expenses).

For further information, contact your local K-State Research and Extension office.

Stacy Campbell is Ellis County agricultural agent with Kansas State Research

and Extension.