SEDALIA, Mo. — Within a few weeks, many beef producers will be weaning spring born calves. They will need to make the decision whether to sell the calves at weaning, sell 45 to 60 days after weaning, or background the calves over winter and sell sometime early next year. One key component of this decision-making process is the feed cost associated with keeping the calves for an extended period of time.
When evaluating different feeding programs for backgrounding calves, there is always the issue of feed cost. Producers can consider either total feed cost per head per day or total feed cost per pound of gain. To illustrate the difference between these two calculations, consider the following example.
I developed two rations using hay plus a common supplement, in this case a mix of 1/3 corn gluten feed, 1/3 soybean hulls, and 1/3 rolled corn. The amount of hay and supplement was adjusted for beef calves to gain either 1.50 or 2.25 pounds of gain per head per day. Feed prices were calculated based on recent quotes from area feed mills and the Missouri Department of Agriculture weekly hay price list.
The lower rate of gain required 7 pounds of supplement per day plus hay. Total feed cost per day was $1.01 and cost per pound of gain was $0.67. It would take 133 days for calves fed this ration to gain 200 pounds at a total feed cost of $134 per head.
The higher rate of gain required 10.5 pounds per day of the same supplement plus hay. Total feed cost per day was $1.20 but cost per pound of gain declined to $0.54. It takes only 89 days for the calves fed this ration to gain 200 pounds at a total feed cost of $107 per head.
Higher feed cost per day but feeding for 44 fewer days will put an extra $27 per head in your pocket in this example.
Provided the calves to not get too fleshy and receive discounts at sale time, it generally makes economic sense to push for more rapid rates of gain on calves. Two to 2.25 pounds of gain per day will generally accomplish this goal.
A second major factor in the feeding program is how inexpensively can supplements be developed while still meeting production goals. To help answer this question, I developed a series of nine rations with the target average daily gain of 2.10 pounds per day using various ingredients for the supplement along with hay.
Again, based on current, local feed prices, the range in feed cost per head per day to get the same rate of gain was $1.02 to $1.30 per head per day. Feed cost per pound of gain ranged from $0.50 to $0.60. Therefore, it pays to shop for feed ingredients and get assistance, if necessary, to help develop feeding program options.
As always, feeding programs must be developed around the quality of forage being utilized in the rations, so hay and silage testing is of utmost importance in developing cost effective feeding programs.
If you have questions about forage testing or ration development, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Pettis County Extension Center at (660) 827-0591.
— University of Missouri Extension
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