Some Arkansas cattle producers have found that they can reduce winter feed costs by using a forage testing program to better balance rations for their cattle.

The producers participated in a University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service program designed to help them reduce winter feed costs, typically the most expensive part of raising beef cattle.

“Testing a producer's hay to determine its quality is a key in cost reduction,” says Tom Troxel, head of extension's animal science section.

“Forage testing usually indicates that cattle producers are overfeeding protein and underfeeding energy sources,” Troxel said. “The savings come by reducing the more expensive protein feed and providing more of the cheaper energy feeds.”

Providing better balanced nutrition can also improve the herd's health, Troxel said.

To demonstrate the technique can save producers money, Arkansas Extension's John Jennings, Extension forages specialist, and Doug Kratz, Extension forages support specialist, launched a winter feed reduction program in the fall of 2002.

They signed up 10 producers from nine counties to participate in the winter program: Dan Wilson, Lafayette County; Ricky Fawcett, Little River; Gerald Johnson, Perry; Max Teeter, Pike; Danny Thomas, Pulaski; Larry Richardson, Saline; Gary Agerton, Union; Steve Bone, Van Buren; Buddy Griffin, White; and Wayne Bolding, White.

“The first year's results of this practice were promising,” Troxel said. When hay quality was above average, producers saved $3.50 to $12 per head in winter feed costs.

“These producers did not realize their hay quality was as good as it was, so they were either overfeeding supplements or not feeding the correct supplement.

“On farms where hay quality was poor, supplemental feeding costs actually increased. Cattle, however, improved in condition when steps were made to implement feeding recommendations. These producers were not feeding enough supplements, and the result was lower cattle performance. This practice reemphasizes the importance of harvesting high quality hay.”

Reducing winter feed costs is a priority of Extension's Focus Program. The program was created to help improve the lives of Arkansans.

Forage testing to balance rations is just one of four management practices that can reduce winter feed costs. The other practices are using stockpiled forages, planting winter annuals and using rotational grazing.

For the second year of the forage testing and ration balancing focus program, many demonstrations will be replicated on the same farms, and new farms will be added.

Troxel said if you're interested in conducting one of the four practices to reduce winter feed costs, contact your county agent with the UA Cooperative Extension Service.


Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.