By Mindy Ward, Iowa Farmer Today
OSCEOLA, IOWA – Cattle backgrounders are searching for cost-effective ways to increase pounds as feedlots demand heavier cattle.
Due to high grain prices, economists have predicted cattle feeders will bid more aggressively for heavier cattle to place in feedlots, reducing the price slide between a 750-pound and a 550-pound calf.
Some economists are forecasting 700- to 900-pound feeders between January and April will sell from $105 to $115 per hundredweight.
Backgrounders are looking at ways to keep more of the gross margin in their pocket by implementing alternative feeding methods.
“I think there are a lot of cattle people who will try to use forage as much as they can,” says Joe Sellers, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist.
“Because feed costs are going to be high, they are trying to get as much gain on them as they can on grass.”
Joe Miller, a backgrounder from Osceola, is one of those producers.
“Right now, our calves are out grazing,” he says.
The wet weather provided an abundance of forage in Iowa this summer, and Miller is taking advantage of it.
Every year, Miller starts some of calves on pasture. He also developed a type of pasture that will pack on the pounds.
Miller interseeds Teff grass, which is an annual grass that originated in Ethiopia. It is a fine-stemmed, tufted annual grass that adapts to a variety of soils and tolerates drought-prone and water-logged soils.
Teff contains more crude protein than wheat. Its protein level, though, is heavily influenced by nitrogen availability.
If harvested as hay, crude protein is around 15 percent of dry matter. In trials across the country, Teff produced more than 2 tons of forage dry matter per acre.
“I have really been impressed with it in our pastures,” the South Central Iowa producer says. “It has proven a quality feed for us.”
While Miller puts calves on pasture longer, he brings them into pens for intensive feeding of haylage and wet gluten mix.
However, in Southwest Missouri, Kyle Kirby never pulls his calves off pasture.
“They always have access to pasture,” says Kirby, a backgrounder from Liberal, Mo. “But, they also have feed.” He feeds calves in bunks along the edge of the pasture. “We have the best of both worlds down here.”
Within five days after arriving at the farm, Kirby puts calves on pasture. He says calves adapt better to their new environment when they are out on pasture. “It is a little less stressful,” he adds.
Kirby finds calm calves start putting on weight quicker. Also, with the rising cost of feed, the more pounds put on with the least amount of cost equates to more money in his pocket. Like Miller, Kirby interseeds some of his pasture ground with a cereal crop. He sows wheat into his Bermuda grass and harvests the crop to include in feed rations.
“I’ve been really impressed at how that works,” Kirby says. “One of our favorite finds was being able to use wheatlage to start our calves on.”
He is acutely aware the increasing price of wheat may cause a change in the operation.
“Our rations are always evolving,” Kirby says.
“In this business you have to be flexible. You have to look for feeds that work and are economical.”
Both producers supplement their pastures with feed sources other than straight shell corn.
“I didn’t feed one bushel of corn last year,” Kirby says.
Instead, he uses a combination of wet corn gluten, ground alfalfa, and dried distillers grains. The key to using commodity feeds is buying in bulk.
Kirby operation relies on a commodity barn to sort and store their products on site.
Miller does not require additional storage since he works closely with a local feed supplier on delivery times.
“Backgrounding using silage, haylage, hay and co-product diet is needed to be cost competitive,” Sellers says.
Dried distillers grains can be fed at levels up to 40 percent the diet dry matter. However, in most cases, the optimum level is generally less than 30 percent.
Wet distillers grains can be included in backgrounding and finishing diets at levels up to 40 percent the diet dry matter.
However, the optimum level of wet distillers grains is 25 to 30 percent of the diet dry matter when used in dry-rolled corn based diets, according to North Dakota State University research.
“We have to be a little smarter now when we are putting together rations,” Kirby adds. “We still need to make cattle gain, and we still can, without corn.”
Using pasture longer and creating rations without corn are just two options backgrounders are using this year to put on pounds with less cost. It is a trend that probably will continue, Sellers says.