BEEF Daily

Exploring New And Novel Cattle Feed Alternatives


As corn prices continue to rise, U.S. beef producers are getting creative in finding new cattle feed sources.

Despite the fact that more than 70% of the U.S. was impacted by a drought in 2012, the U.S. harvested 11.8 billion bu. of corn last year. One would think that a smaller U.S. cowherd combined with a corn surplus would translate into cheaper feed prices, but competition from ethanol and the food industry means producers can expect continued high cattle feed prices.

Lou Moore, retired Penn State Extension ag economist, offered his views on the state of the industry at a recent cattlemen’s banquet. Lancaster Farming summed up his comments nicely here, but what resonated with me were his thoughts on feeding cattle in 2013.

Moore says that despite a general U.S. economic recession, agriculture isn’t experiencing a similar decline, as evidenced by a growing export market for ag products. Nonetheless, feed prices will play a big role in 2013. “Corn prices are putting a squeeze on the cattle industry,” he says.

Despite the fact that the U.S. cowherd continues to shrink, the drought has decimated forage resources and forced producers to put cattle into feedlots earlier.

“We have a smaller supply of animals, a smaller supply coming, fewer going into feedlots, and demand will be fairly high, but we’re in competition with pork and chicken,” Moore says.

Two factors that Moore expects to impact American agriculture in 2013 are how producers deal with high cattle feed prices, and how consumers adjust their protein consumption in a weak economy.

While I’m constantly writing about educating our consumers and promoting beef to budget-conscious Americans, I haven’t blogged much about the production side of our business lately. As the drought continues to hurt cattle producers and feed prices skyrocket, there are many who are looking for feasible solutions, even if they aren’t necessarily tradition.

While at the World Ag Expo in California a couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with two gentlemen who are researching how sprouted barley might take center stage in a feedlot setting. They were exploring the cost savings, while examining the protein differences between corn and barley.

And, while that doesn’t seem too outlandish, there are others who are looking at totally different fare for their cattle.

Remember the rancher who was feeding his cattle candy?

Or perhaps you’ve heard of the new studies showing feeding algae to cattle improves performance and fertility?

One of the most interesting cattle feed alternatives I’ve come across lately is this one: sawdust.

According to The Omaha World Herald, “A southeast Iowa farmer has come up with a surprising solution to the high cost of cattle feed. Bob Batey, an 85-year-old Mount Pleasant-area farmer, says his 50 cattle devour the sawdust mixture he feeds them.


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Batey says he stumbled upon the idea in the 1970s, when he noticed that cows were eating the sawdust that had washed into their pasture from a nearby paper mill. Batey, who has a lumber mill on his farm, discovered a way to treat and cook sawdust that results in a digestible feed that cattle find tasty. The sawdust, when mixed with corn, vitamins, minerals and a few other ingredients, has a nutritional value equivalent to grass hay.”

With the high price of feed, are you looking at cheaper feed alternatives? What do you think of feeding cattle things like candy, algae or sawdust? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

And if you’re looking for alternative feeds for your cattle, check out Rod Preston’s newly updated feed composition tables. The listing provides the typical nutritional composition of almost 300 feedstuffs. You might find some useful surprises in there.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 15

Joe C. Paschal (not verified)
on Feb 27, 2013

Sawdust is not a new idea, it was investigated during WWI and then again in WWII as a feed supplement for livestock. I don't think any results I have seen show it to be the equivalent of a grass hay, unless it is a very poor quality grass hay but I could be mistaken.

Don Morgan 32656 (not verified)
on Feb 27, 2013

Lke to know more about Sawdust Feed

Hank (not verified)
on Feb 27, 2013

We used wood chip screenings from a local paper mill to stretch our cow feed during one winter. Our normal cow ration was 15 lb grass legume mix silage and 15 lb. (or what ever they would clean up in 2 hours) grass hay. We added the screenings slowly over 2 weeks until it made up one third of the silage portion of the ration. We fed it from November until a couple of weeks before calving in April. The cows body condition was normal at calving. We knew that the cows would not reject the screenings as they eat aspen leaves and branches at all times of the year. In fact they will walk down young aspen trees to get at the top branches. We had read an article in a magazine on feeding wood material during the fall we starting feeding the screenings. I think it was on work done at South Dakota State. I just looked for it on google and found this site.
It gives the feed value compared to other feedstuffs.
It would be hard for us to feed aspen chip screenings today as the paper mill has been torn down and power companies are buying all of the total tree chips.

on Aug 25, 2016

Hi Hank - This is a VERY late response to your post.

However, we are a company based in South Africa with an endless supply of pine wood dust. We also manufacture cattle feed as well as other animal feed products.

Would you be able to assist us in using the wood dust to mix into our cattle feed? A recipe if you will. I look forward to hearing from you. Victor

Hank (not verified)
on Feb 27, 2013

Correct email address

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 27, 2013

Poultry litter has been fed to cattle for years and many times mixed an all purpose pellet. 50:50 mix

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 27, 2013

Can cattle eat spent coffee grounds? Has anyone looked into it?

on Feb 27, 2013

check out the individual feedstuff listings here:

John R. Dykers, Jr. (not verified)
on Feb 27, 2013

shredded paper, even old newspaper. nice to add a little molasses for flavor.

on Mar 1, 2013

Rod Preston, an emeritus professor from Texas Tech University, where he was a Horn Distinguished Professor, compiles the information in the Feed Composition Tables. Preston has taught and conducted animal nutrition research in the areas of protein, minerals, growth and body composition since 1957. He has also conducted cattle feeding research on the energy value of feeds, growth enhancers and nutrition management.

He says that in the 1960s, while at the University of Missouri, he and his colleagues conducted preliminary research on feeding sawdust to sheep. The results, however, didn’t look promising at that time.

He says that sawdust might be used as a "roughage" or "scratch" factor in high-concentrate diets; a better term now is effective NDF, which is listed for the feeds in his Feed Composition Tables. Indirectly, he refers to sawdust in the preamble to the tables, where he notes: "Thus, ground fence posts and shelled corn may have the same gross energy value but have markedly different useful energy value (TDN or net energy) when consumed by the animal."

Dr. Preston says he has some concerns about the safety of feeding sawdust. “It could cause compaction if fed at too high an amount. Secondly, the source of the sawdust might be important. Pine and other conifers cause toxic problems in the West, especially when range is short.”

His bottom line is that if the producer mentioned above has been feeding sawdust, is satisfied with the results, and the cattle are doing well, it’s probably okay.

AndyH (not verified)
on Mar 3, 2013

We also had neighbours feeding broiler litter to their cattle, which worked with the common pine wood shavings, one layer farmer used an African hardwood which he got free from a furniture manufacturer, the hormone levels were such that all the hens developed secondary male characteristics (so couldn't lay) and the males had el=nlarged livers and hearts at slaughter, made the ranchers a little more wary of their source of litter! We just stayed with our mob grazing (as it is now called) and all grazing and veld finishing Sanga cattle and crosses, with no suppliments.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 6, 2013

To address cattle feed shortages you may want to check out the National Algae Association. NAA is working with universities and feedlots to use algae as a cattle feed suppliment.

Algae is renewable, has no affect on the food channel and can be grown using anaerobic digestion waste streams.

on Nov 1, 2013

Exploring New And Novel Cattle Feed Alternatives,good article.

on Dec 25, 2013

I was talking to a mate who is working for the commodities market, and he mentioned that with global warming, feeds are getting more and more scarce. That is why there is a move to get into alternatives and proper storage of these.

on Jan 22, 2014

I had to check out the link to the farmer who was feeding his cattle candy to see what that was all about as it sounded so off the wall! Although not a farmer my self I have my misgivings about cattle eating candy, and don’t really see how it was even considered. There must be plenty of more healthy options for them that are just as cheap surely without having to resort to sweet stuff?

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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