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Feed Inventory Planning

05 October 2012

Drought conditions have many producers thinking about what to feed now and well into the future. Not only is there concern about the price, but also availability. With availability comes the question of how much should be purchased now and what will be available later, writes Adele Harty, South Dakota University Extension.

With the persistent dry conditions, many states across the country are struggling with the same problems and helping producers to be as prepared as possible is important. In South Dakota some of the ethanol plants have reduced operations or closed due to the high price and questionable availability of corn. As a result there will be a substantially reduced supply of distillers grains (wet, modified, or dry) available to livestock producers Livestock producers are looking for solutions and feed alternatives that can be utilized.

There are some options available; however finding them at a reasonable price, determining the nutrient value and how they can be incorporated into the diet can put producers into uncharted territory. For instance, there has been more silage put up across the state of South Dakota this year than years past, but the quality is not that of “normal” silage. Much of the corn did not pollinate, therefore there is little to no grain on the cobs, reducing the energy density of the ensiled feed. Many people who have never chopped silage before are doing so this year, so some silage may have been chopped too wet or too dry, and getting the pile packed correctly is a critical component to proper fermentation. All of these factors can lead to a silage product that is questionable in quality and warrants a lab test to determine how it will fit into the diet.

The other major concern with the failed corn crop is the level of nitrate it contains. Ensiling the corn can decrease the nitrates by 20-50%, however this is dependent on whether or not the silage fermented properly. In order to determine the nitrate level before feeding the silage, use a probe to collect a sample from within the pile and send it to a lab for analysis. Not only is nitrate a concern with drought-stressed corn silage, but also oats, barley, millet, sudan, sorghum, weeds (kochia, pigweed, lambsquarter, Russian thistle, etc), and drought stressed soybeans, among others.

In order to prepare and plan for the feed inventory needed throughout the fall and winter, the key is to have a nutrient analysis conducted on the feeds. If a choice needs to be made between similar feeds or supplements, use the nutrient analysis and the cost to determine the most economical option for the operation. Calculate this on a cost per pound of nutrient basis. Other considerations in the decision deal with handling, equipment and delivery. Don’t select a feed that will require capital purchases to handle or deliver, especially when it may only be fed for a very short period of time.

Once the feeds have been selected, then the quantity to purchase needs to be determined. In order to do this figure how much feed animals will consume. This can be done on a per head basis, or what is fed per day. Either way simple calculations can allow producers to estimate the amount of feed they will need. From this, adjust the number up for waste, which will vary depending on the feedstuff. For example, hay will have a higher percentage (5-15%) waste than range cubes (1-3%).

Key Points:

  • Determine need for quantity and quality of feedstuffs
  • Determine available feeds and nutrient content, while being aware of nitrates
  • Select the best option(s)
  • Purchase as much of needed feed as possible now, as future availability is uncertain
  • Contracts for feed delivery may mean very little when there is no feed available to be delivered

October 2012

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