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Exploring New And Novel Cattle Feed Alternatives

Beef cattle feed alternatives

Despite the fact that more than 70% of the U.S. was impacted by a drought in 2012, the U.S. harvested 11.8 billion bu. of corn last year. One would think that a smaller U.S. cowherd combined with a corn surplus would translate into cheaper feed prices, but competition from ethanol and the food industry means producers can expect continued high cattle feed prices.

Lou Moore, retired Penn State Extension ag economist, offered his views on the state of the industry at a recent cattlemen’s banquet. Lancaster Farming summed up his comments nicely here, but what resonated with me were his thoughts on feeding cattle in 2013.

Moore says that despite a general U.S. economic recession, agriculture isn’t experiencing a similar decline, as evidenced by a growing export market for ag products. Nonetheless, feed prices will play a big role in 2013. “Corn prices are putting a squeeze on the cattle industry,” he says.

Despite the fact that the U.S. cowherd continues to shrink, the drought has decimated forage resources and forced producers to put cattle into feedlots earlier.

“We have a smaller supply of animals, a smaller supply coming, fewer going into feedlots, and demand will be fairly high, but we’re in competition with pork and chicken,” Moore says.

Two factors that Moore expects to impact American agriculture in 2013 are how producers deal with high cattle feed prices, and how consumers adjust their protein consumption in a weak economy.

While I’m constantly writing about educating our consumers and promoting beef to budget-conscious Americans, I haven’t blogged much about the production side of our business lately. As the drought continues to hurt cattle producers and feed prices skyrocket, there are many who are looking for feasible solutions, even if they aren’t necessarily tradition.

While at the World Ag Expo in California a couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with two gentlemen who are researching how sprouted barley might take center stage in a feedlot setting. They were exploring the cost savings, while examining the protein differences between corn and barley.

And, while that doesn’t seem too outlandish, there are others who are looking at totally different fare for their cattle.

Remember the rancher who was feeding his cattle candy?

Or perhaps you’ve heard of the new studies showing feeding algae to cattle improves performance and fertility?

One of the most interesting cattle feed alternatives I’ve come across lately is this one: sawdust.

According to The Omaha World Herald, “A southeast Iowa farmer has come up with a surprising solution to the high cost of cattle feed. Bob Batey, an 85-year-old Mount Pleasant-area farmer, says his 50 cattle devour the sawdust mixture he feeds them.


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Batey says he stumbled upon the idea in the 1970s, when he noticed that cows were eating the sawdust that had washed into their pasture from a nearby paper mill. Batey, who has a lumber mill on his farm, discovered a way to treat and cook sawdust that results in a digestible feed that cattle find tasty. The sawdust, when mixed with corn, vitamins, minerals and a few other ingredients, has a nutritional value equivalent to grass hay.”

With the high price of feed, are you looking at cheaper feed alternatives? What do you think of feeding cattle things like candy, algae or sawdust? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

And if you’re looking for alternative feeds for your cattle, check out Rod Preston’s newly updated feed composition tables. The listing provides the typical nutritional composition of almost 300 feedstuffs. You might find some useful surprises in there.


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Nutrient Values For 300 Beef Cattle Feeds

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