Thursday, June 20, 2024
HomeGrazing ManagementWhich Feed Is A Better Value?

Which Feed Is A Better Value?

Let’s say you had a droughty year and winter feed is in short supply.  One option is to reduce your herd size to match the amount of feed you have. We’ve written about that here. Another option is to buy feed.

Knowing that the cost to feed a cow can be the largest percentage of your annual production costs, you’ll naturally look for the best feed you can find for the lowest price. The problem is that different feeds have different dry matter, crude protein and total digestible nutrients (TDN). So when comparing several options, knowing the price per ton of TDN or Crude Protein will help you compare apples to apples.

As an example, let’s say you have a choice between low-quality hay that is 88% dry matter (DM) and is 6% crude protein (CP) of the dry matter (as-fed dry matter). That costs $56 per ton. There’s also alfalfa/grass hay at 88% dry matter and 16% crude protein for $180 a ton.  Here’s what the math looks like for comparing the cost per pound:



If the value of the hay is provided in Total Digestible Nutrients, you would replace the Crude Protein percentage with the TDN percentage.

The math isn’t hard, and if you remember the formula, it’s something you can do on the back of an envelope while you’re out looking at feed. Or, if you’re in front of your computer and just want to be able to plug in numbers, I made you a little Xcel spreadsheet calculator to do that.

Here you go. Just click on the picture and download it:


What Do Your Livestock Need?

You also know that different livestock have different nutritional requirements through the winter. No matter what, you need to meet your herd’s needs. Feeding very poor hay can limit production significantly.

So once you’ve compared costs of the feeds available, you’ll also think about what your operation needs to keep the livestock healthy and growing through the winter. That may mean that price isn’t the only factor. Or, if the price is right, you might choose a lower-quality, less-expensive feed and then buy an additional supplement for those livestock that need it. You can use the calculator or the formulas to figure the added cost of the supplement to see what that does to your bottom line.

If you’re anything like me, this whole process may make your head feel a little tight with all the thinking you’re doing. But it will be worth it in the end, and hopefully this makes it a little easier for you.





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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. SDSU has a Feedstuff Calculator App that comparies cost per unit of TDN and Protein, but no livestock requirement, runs on your phone, little easier than whipping out the laptop at the hay auction. . .

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