Buying Feed? Here’s How You Can Compare Them To Choose the Best Value

We first ran this in October of 2016. It’s just as timely now given that many folks had a droughty summer and may be looking at feed for the winter.

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 Excel 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.

Would you like a calculator to make it easy to figure out how much forage you need? We’ve got that for you too! Just click! 🙂

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.

Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible.

There’s still time to register for the 7th National Grazing Lands Conference to be held December 2-5 in Reno, Nevada. With more than 50 producers presenting on what works for them on the ground, it’s a great place to learn new things to improve your own operation. Join the On Pasture crew there!

It’s October and we have only 3 months left to make our grant match that helps keep On Pasture online.

Can you chip in? To be sustainable, we need a community-wide effort. Any amount helps! If it’s an option for you, consider becoming an “Ongoing Supporter” at just $5/month. The support you give is especially helpful to help show outside funders that On Pasture is a great investment for them.

2 thoughts on “Buying Feed? Here’s How You Can Compare Them To Choose the Best Value

  1. When you are trying to make it through a drought without spending the equivalent of what it would cost to replace a cow you have to look at ways to cut back. Will your cows suffer as a result? That depends. If you supplement the lower quality feed with something else that you have readily available and it’s free (such as cactus), it will provide the extra protein and fiber that is needed so your cows won’t decline. The key difference is, are you willing to do the extra work? Most people are not. I have found I can buy feed lot feed at half the price of cubes. Granted it has 6% less protein, but the price justifies it. Remember it is just to get your through the drought. In Texas, I have seen ranchers that have had to sell the ranch because they couldn’t afford to buy the (high dollar) replacement cows after they sold them on the decline (low dollar) because of the drought. Just another point of view.

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