September 1, 2023
We’ve long defined efficiency as getting the most out of something, whether that is fuel efficiency or feed efficiency. However, few, if any, producers consider their time and labor as part of that equation. The perfect feed for a given situation may cost more per ton or even more per pound of gain than the alternatives. The real measure of a feeding program is how it meets your performance, budget, time, and labor goals for a particular set of animals.
The cost of the feed is usually the largest consideration, but you should also consider how the program performs versus what it costs. Many producers use the same program for years without really examining how all of those constraints are met. Which ones are most important depends on your priorities as a resource manager. Remember that continuing to do what you’ve always done is neither a plan nor a dynamic reaction to market and environmental conditions.
First, you need to have a good understanding of what your goals are, both for your animals and for your feeding program. In some cases, you may need nothing more than a well-formulated free-choice mineral supplement. In other scenarios, you might need to deliver quite a bit of energy and protein to your animals.
It’s well understood that tubs provide a high degree of convenience. In fact, most producers buy tubs primarily because they’re so convenient. However, no feed supplement is perfect for all scenarios. While tubs are a good option for supplementing protein, they aren’t going to supply a meaningful amount of additional energy or calories.
Hand-feeding a ration will often provide you with the absolute lowest cost of gain, but what about the cost of infrastructure/equipment operation and the value of the time spent feeding those animals once or twice a day? If you’re paying someone to feed, those costs are more easily examined, but if you’re doing it yourself, it can be harder to assign a value. What else could you be doing with that time and capital investment?
A self-limited ration, such as Ranger Limiter®, can bring together the best of both worlds, but at the cost of being more expensive per ton and at a higher cost of gain compared to hand feeding. You can deliver a meaningful amount of energy and protein through a self-limited ration and do it without doing more than opening the lid on the feeder for the delivery truck. The only infrastructure required is a bulk feeder. With the right feed, your goals for a set of animals can be met in an efficient manner.
With the right feed you can meet your goals for a set of animals in an efficient manner. Photo submitted by Cargill.
Feed is always available, no matter how the weather may impact the grazing schedule or amount of time spent by your animals. Generally, instead of “tanking up” once or twice a day, your cattle will consume self-limited feed a few times a day, which will support more efficient feed conversion to gain and promote better digestibility of your forages. Which can mean a healthier rumen and less danger of acidosis, founder, or bloat.
Self-limited feeds are almost always going to be more expensive on a cost-per-ton basis than unlimited intake feeds. It’s key to remember the cost per ton is almost meaningless if you don’t understand what the feed will do for your animals.
In different market conditions, producers and animals need dynamic solutions to meet their needs and challenges. There are lots of options for you to explore to find the one that best fits your operation. Are you really examining your options, or are you assuming what you’ve been doing is the best route?
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