Arkansas cattle producers can reduce their winter feed costs by an average of $21 per head by providing their herds with nutritious “stockpiled” forages, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service has shown through a new program.
“The first year's results  are impressive,” noted Tom Troxel, head of Arkansas Extension's animal science section.
He said helping cattle producers reduce beef cattle winter feed costs — one of the most costly parts of a cattle operation — is one of several Focus Program priorities established by Extension to improve the lives of Arkansans.
Troxel said that profits in cow-calf operations mainly depend on four factors: calf crop percentage, calf weaning weights, selling price of calves and cost of production.
“The production and use of forages and feed supplements influences all of these factors,” he said.
The practice of stockpiling forages is one way of reducing winter feed costs. It begins with growing forage in late summer and early fall for grazing in the winter. This forage is not harvested for hay, but is allowed to stand in the field for cattle to harvest, Troxel noted.
The reduced winter feed cost program was launched in the fall of 2002 by John Jennings, Extension forages specialist, and Doug Kratz, Extension forages support specialist, with the help of Arkansas county agents. The goal of the program was to demonstrate that four management practices could potentially reduce winter feed costs without negatively affecting beef cattle performance.
The four practices demonstrated were using stockpiled forages (warm- and cool-seasoned forages), forage testing to help balance rations, planting winter annuals and using rotational grazing.
Eleven cooperating producers in nine counties agreed to implement these practices and collect production and economic data to help Extension personnel determine the cost-effectiveness of the practices.
The results pleased Extension personnel.
Overall, the average yield per acre was 2,030 pounds. The savings per head by using stockpiled forages compared to the cost of feeding hay and supplement during the same period ranged from $5.51 to $37.60 per head and averaged $21 per head. For a 50-cow herd, that's a saving of more than $1,000.
The savings come by reducing the more expensive harvested feed and supplements typically fed herds in the winter and providing quality forage, according to Troxel.
Another benefit was found when the stockpiled forage was analyzed for nutrient quality. It was determined that the stockpiled forage generally had higher protein and energy than the harvest hay, Troxel said.
These producers participated in the 2002-03 stockpiled forage program: Bill Ross, Carroll County; Bill Davis, Cleburne; Franky Sharp, Izard; Steve Morgan, Johnson; Gerald Johnson, Perry; Dew Dollar, Pope; Lewis Weir, Pope; Shawn Shelton, Searcy; Brady Collier, Searcy; Fred Slocum, Van Buren; and Marty Martin, White.
For the winter 2003 Focus program, new farms will be added to the existing farms in the demonstration.
If you're interested in conducting one of the four practices to reduce winter feed cost, contact a county agent with the UA Cooperative Extension Service.
Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.