Cattle feed cost comparison

The corn cost increases may be a benefit to corn producers, but not so to cattle producers.

June 17, 2021

4 Min Read
Considerations for slowing feedlot cattle growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic
Burt Rutherford

The recent increase in corn prices may be a benefit to grain farmers in Iowa but it has increased the cost of all feeds, feedlot cost of gain and negatively affected closeout profitability. This article discusses the basics of comparing feed alternatives before formulating new rations. It is revised and updated from a presentation given at the Driftless Region Beef Conference.

Know the needs of the cattle and the value of your feeds and forages. Being strategic in using your feeds of different quality can minimize the need for supplementation.

Identify feedstuffs. Look out of the box.

Today the first step in beef ration development is to identify the feedstuffs that should be considered. Surprisingly, often the best bargains are the feeds that are most local, especially those only you and a few neighbors know about or have access to.


Check out these very local opportunities first.

Some examples of these types of feeds that may be available are corn screenings from the local elevator, slightly damaged or off-grade corn from your cash corn neighbor, husklage from the local seed corn processing plant, or byproducts from local food and feed processors. Give your cattle the opportunity to be “locavores” if there is an economic opportunity.

The next feeds to consider are those that are limited in their market by moisture levels and transportation costs. In Iowa, these include modified distillers grains, wet distillers’ grains, wet corn gluten feed and condensed distillers solubles (syrup).

Finally, consider dry commodities that may be available. These feeds can be great bargains, but those bargains can disappear quickly because they are global commodities. Examples include dry distillers’ grains, soy hulls, corn gluten pellets, wheat midds and whole cottonseed.


Compare these feeds per unit of nutrient.

Given that high corn prices are driving the run up in feed costs, feed energy is the major consideration. The chart below is generated by the feedstuff energy cost index program, a free download from the Iowa Beef Center (see references for link). The example here was from average prices published on June 2, 2021. The prices were taken from the National Ethanol Report, the Missouri byproduct feed price listing and the Iowa hay auction reports. Of course, you should use your own delivered prices and account for storage and feeding losses, but this example shows that corn is no longer the lowest source of energy in a feedlot ration. Wet and modified distillers grains are the lowest cost energy source which will encourage feedlots to increase rates of inclusion.


Balance rations

One of the major challenges of the new reality for feedstuff selection is that the most economical feeds will likely be quite variable in nutrient composition and/or need significant supplementation to meet the requirements of many classes of cattle. This requires producers to have a good relationship with suppliers. Routine feed testing and monitoring, along with complete ration balancing, is more important as feed costs increase. If you are want to tackle the ration balancing on your own, consider a computer program such as the BRaNDS program from IBC. Many of you will look to professional assistance from a nutritionist for help.

Lock in feed supplies and prices

Many ethanol producers offer forward contracts for MDG and WDG supplies and prices. If these feeds work out to be the most economical of the available feeds, this may be an option to consider. Also, with the volatility in feed, feeder and fed cattle prices, some protection of margins may be prudent when the opportunity arises.

In today’s economic environment, successful cattle producers are the ones who are flexible and adaptable in feed procurement. Once the feeds are sourced, however, efficiency and consistent management continue to be of utmost importance.

Source: Iowa State University, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 


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