The USDA Economic Research Service estimates purchased and harvested feeds make up almost half of the annual cow costs. Because purchased and harvested feeds are such a large proportion of the overall costs making significant reductions in this area will help reduce overall costs. One way to reduce harvested feed costs is to extend the grazing season through the winter. Allowing the cow to harvest the forage is less expensive than mechanically harvesting and feeding forage. This is especially true with today’s high fuel prices. At the University of Nebraska Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory near Whitman, March-calving cows graze native winter range from December through February. These cows are fed 0.3 lbs/day of supplemental protein and experience good pregnancy rates and calf growth performance.
In addition to winter range, grazing of cornstalks during the winter has the potential to reduce harvested feed costs. Historically cornstalks have been an inexpensive feed source and more cornstalks will be produced as a result of greater corn production. University of Nebraska data has shown spring calving cows wintered on cornstalks do not need supplemental protein but this depends on how the cornstalks are managed. A decision support tool has been created to help producers determine appropriate stocking rates, plan acres needed and calculate costs. This tool is called the “Cornstalk."