“Whatever place you are at now, if you can cut 30 days off feeding hay, you’ll increase profits,” says University of Missouri Extension specialist Wesley Tucker, who is a beef producer himself.

Tucker says the most common question he is asked by producers is how to get better calf prices. However, he says that’s the wrong focus. “We tend to focus on how can we get paid more, but we can’t influence that as much as feed cost. There we can have a huge impact,” Tucker says.

From his analysis of SPA data, Tucker reports there are large differences in profitability between cow-calf operations with some making up to $128/cow/year while others are losing as much as $145/cow/year. Those dollar differences are impacted by numerous variables, but Tucker says 52% of that variation in profitability is due to feed cost alone.

Tucker estimates it costs about double to feed hay vs. have livestock graze in the pasture. And feeding grains costs about three times as much as grazing.

Not to mention the nutrients that are removed from the soil when forage is put up as hay. Tucker says, “When you are haying you’re removing nitrogen, phosporus and potassium. Every time I feed a 1,000 lb. round bale of hay I’m feeding about $6 of potassium and phosphorus. Whereas, with grazing livestock are returning some of those nutrients to the soil through manure.

Thus, Tucker advocates that producers find ways to graze as much as possible. As an example, he suggests stockpiling forages and using them into the fall instead of feeding hay. He estimates grazing stockpiled forage costs 40-50 cents/cow/day while feeding hay is closer to $1/cow/day.

He concludes, “If you can graze, manure helps leave the nutrients on there.”

Taking it one step further, he suggests hay should be fed on the field it was baled on to minimize loss of nutrients and soil fertility.

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