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Feedstuffs for Beef Cattle

Mississippi beef cattle producers have an abundance of productive, high-quality forage systems available. Yet achieving a year-round supply of adequate forage yields with acceptable nutrient composition is challenging. Commodity feeds serve as a nutritional option for beef cattle operations to supplement grazing and stored forage.
 
A wide variety of commodity-derived feedstuffs are used in ruminant animal production systems. Whole cottonseed, cottonseed hulls, cottonseed meal, soybean meal, soybean hulls, corn gluten feed, hominy feed, dried distillers grains, and rice mill feed are examples of commodity feedstuffs common in Mississippi. Decisions about which feedstuffs to incorporate into a nutritional program and their appropriate dietary inclusion levels should be based on several key considerations.
 
Evaluating Feedstuffs
 
Supply
 
Practical and cost-effective availability of specific commodity feeds varies throughout Mississippi. Consider whether or not a reliable supply of a certain feedstuff is available. Feeding program modifications will be necessary if stored supplies of desired feedstuffs are depleted and cannot be replenished as needed. Developing working relationships with reliable suppliers is invaluable when relying on commodity feeds in beef cattle nutritional programs. Seasonality of feedstuff supplies impacts both availability and price. It is not uncommon for trucks to wait for extended periods (often half a day or more) in line to be loaded with commodity feeds during periods of tight supplies relative to demand.
 
Physical Characteristics
 
Handling capabilities and producer preferences for feedstuff handling may determine whether a particular feedstuff is a viable option for a particular beef cattle operation. Ability to flow through an auger is one important physical characteristic that affects the usefulness of a feedstuff. Fuzzy, whole cottonseed is a classic example of a feedstuff that does not flow readily through a typical feed auger. Coating cottonseed with cornstarch, however, can alleviate this problem.
 
Flow characteristics determine the type of truck necessary for hauling a specific feedstuff and the type of storage facilities needed. Some feedstuffs are conducive to storage in upright bins, whereas other feedstuffs require storage areas such as commodity shed bays. The bulkiness and associated storage space required for a given volume of feedstuff varies greatly among these products. Particle size and other mixing characteristics affect the flexibility of including a specific feedstuff as part of a mixed feed. On-farm feed delivery systems also determine the viability of using various feedstuffs. For example, if feedstuffs are likely to cake in self-feeders, then alternative feedstuffs must be selected or alternative feeding methods implemented. Mississippi State University Extension Service Publication 2570 Feedstuff Handling, Storage, and Feeding Systems for Livestock provides additional detail on this topic.
 
Storage life is another important consideration in feedstuff selection. Wet distillers grain is an example of a feedstuff with a relatively short effective storage life. The humid and often warm Mississippi environment is not conducive to lengthy storage of feeds that rapidly mold or spoil. Be aware of physical characteristics of feedstuffs, such as high moisture content, that increase risk of or accelerate the onset of quality losses, deterioration, or spoilage.
 
Value
 
The value of individual feedstuffs is best expressed in terms of price per quantity of nutrients delivered. Nutrients of interest in beef cattle nutritional programs include total digestible nutrients (TDN) or alternative energy values (net energy system, NE), crude protein (CP), fat (which ideally should not exceed 6 percent of the total diet in mature cattle or 4 percent in growing cattle), fiber (crude fiber, neutral detergent fiber, acid detergent fiber), and mineral levels (e.g., ratio of calcium to phosphorus, excessive levels of sulfur, etc.). Knowing the moisture content of a feedstuff and whether the nutrient levels are specified on an as-fed (as-received, moisture content included) or dry matter (DM) basis is critical in assessing the feedstuff’s value.
 
Although certain by-products may be cheap in terms of dollars, they may not necessarily be a good value. The nutritional makeup of feeds and what they contribute to beef cattle performance determine their true value (Table 1). Feedstuffs are generally classified as energy, protein, or roughage feeds based on nutrient content and intended use. Some feedstuffs, such as whole cottonseed, arguably fit well within multiple classifications.
 
1The nutrient values presented are intended as a general guide to nutrient qualities of feedstuffs. Significant variation in nutrient values exists among different feed sources. Laboratory analysis of a representative sample of a feedstuff is recommended to determine nutritive value.
 
Comparing feedstuffs on nutrient makeup in terms of dollar value is accomplished using economic replacement values. The basic idea behind this concept is that the nutritional makeup of a feedstuff and what it contributes to beef cattle performance determines the feedstuff’s true value. The relative value of feeds is compared in terms of dollar value for TDN and crude protein content as compared to base feeds. Corn is often used as the base energy feedstuff and soybean meal as the base protein feedstuff for comparison purposes. This method does not account for roughage levels needed in the diet or other feeding considerations, but it is useful in quick, overall comparisons of feed prices and nutrient replacement values.
 
Economic replacement value calculators are available to assist in comparing feedstuffs for nutrient content and price. When ranking the value of individual feedstuffs in a nutritional program, consider the nutrient composition of each feedstuff. For instance, an inexpensive, high-fiber feedstuff with low TDN and CP levels may rank above other feedstuffs for economic replacement value calculated based on TDN and CP levels per unit price, but may not contain adequate concentrations of TDN or CP for the class of cattle to be fed at expected intake levels. Compare energy supplements to energy supplements and protein supplements to protein supplements.
 
Table 1. Nutrient content of selected beef cattle feedstuffs on a dry matter basis.1
 

Feedstuff

Dry matter %

Total digestible nutrients %

Crude protein %

Crude fiber %

Crude fat %

Calcium %

Phosphorus %

Energy feeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whole shelled corn

90

90

9

2

4

0.03

0.32

Hominy feed

90

91

11

7

8

0.06

0.58

Soybean hulls

91

77

12.1

40.1

2.1

0.49

0.21

Oats

89

75

13

12

5

0.05

0.35

Wheat middlings

89

69

18.4

8.2

4.9

0.13

0.99

Rice bran

90

70

16

12

15

0.10

1.73

Cane molasses

75

72

5.8

0

0.1

1

0.11

Grain screenings

88-90

70-91

14.2

9-13

5

0.48

0.43

Citrus pulp

90

80

6.5

13

4

1.90

0.13

Peanut skins

94

65

17.4

12.6

25.5

0.19

0.20

Beet pulp

91

78

9.7

19.8

0.6

0.69

0.10

Protein feeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corn gluten feed

90

80

22

9

3.2

0.10

0.82

Whole cottonseed

92

96

23

24

20

0.21

0.64

Cottonseed meal

92

76

41

13

3

0.18

1.21

Soybean meal

90

84

49

7

1.5

0.30

0.68

Peanut meal

92

77

52.3

10.8

1.4

0.29

0.68

Dried distillers grains

92

86

27

12

10

0.26

0.83

Brewers grains

21

66

25.4

14.9

6.5

0.30

0.55

Roughages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cottonseed hulls

91

45

4.1

47.8

1.7

0.15

0.09

Cotton gin trash

90

44

7.4

36.7

1.7

0.65

0.12

Peanut hulls

91

22

8

63

1.5

0.20

0.07

Corn stalks

85

50

6.6

34

2

0.50

0.10

Soybean stubble

88

40

5

44

2

1.00

0.06

Wheat straw

89

44

3.6

41.6

1.8

0.18

0.50

 
Table 2 shows prices at which selected co-product feedstuffs are relatively equivalent to corn and soybean meal at the given prices. Being able to purchase feedstuffs for less than these relative values would be a good deal compared to feeding corn and soybean meal base diets at the given prices. Calculators are available from the Mississippi State University Extension Service to calculate economic replacement values.
 
Table 2. Relative value ($/ton) of by-product feeds with selected corn and soybean meal prices.1,2
 

Corn price, $/ton

Feed

175

200

225

250

275

300

Whole cottonseed

207

220

233

225

238

251

243

256

269

261

274

288

280

293

306

298

311

324

Cottonseed hulls

82

83

83

94

94

94

105

106

106

117

117

117

128

129

129

140

140

140

Soybean hulls

149

153

157

167

171

175

185

189

193

203

207

211

221

225

229

239

243

247

Corn gluten feed

182

197

211

196

210

225

210

224

239

224

238

252

238

252

266

251

266

280

Hominy feed

166

167

169

188

189

191

210

212

213

232

234

235

254

256

258

276

278

280

Dried distillers grains

209

227

245

223

241

259

237

255

273

251

269

288

265

283

302

279

298

316

Wheat middlings

172

182

191

189

198

208

205

215

224

222

231

241

238

248

257

255

264

274

Rice bran

142

149

155

156

163

170

170

177

184

185

192

198

199

206

213

213

220

227

Cane molasses

104

103

102

120

119

117

136

134

133

152

150

149

168

166

165

184

182

181

 
1Top, middle, and bottom values are estimated based on soybean meal costing $450/ton, $500/ton, and $550/ton, respectively.
 
2These comparisons consider only feedstuff moisture, total digestible nutrients, and crude protein concentrations and do not account for differences in fat, fiber, minerals, etc.
 
 
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