Alternative Feeds for Beef Cattle

Megan Van Emon, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

The term alternative feeds can have several meanings for beef cattle production. I tend to think of alternative feeds and those feeds that are not traditionally fed, such as corn, barley, or grass/alfalfa hay. In a year where pasture or forage production may be limiting, alternative feeds should be considered as potential feed sources to make up for the energy and protein shortfall.

Producers need to consider the feeds available in their area, not all feeds are available in every area. When considering additional feeds, prices should be considered on a per pound of nutrient basis, such as protein and energy. This allows for feeds to be directly compared to one another. Additionally, producers should consider the amount of feed needed to make up energy and protein shortfalls and/or if consumption should be limited for their cow herd. Moreover, nitrates may be an issue for some alternative feeds and care should be taken when feeding.

Several feeds can be considered for beef cattle during times of limited forage production. Corn residue, field peas and residue, beet pulp, and wheat middlings are just a few alternative-type feeds that can be fed to cattle. Several factors should be considered when considering alternative feeds. One of the largest factors is availability. Product availability in your area is critical when considering alternative feeds.

Another large factor is cost. As mentioned previously, determining the cost of the product per pound of nutrient and cost per head per day based on needed consumption will aid in selecting a product. Nutrient analysis of the product is another factor to consider because it is needed to determine these costs. Alternative feeds may vary greatly in nutrient composition, so a current nutrient analysis should be conducted for the feed. When calculating these costs, the dry matter information should be used.

Additionally, transportation cost should be considered when determining which feeds are more economically viable. Transportation of a product such as beet pulp, which is high in moisture, reduces the amount of dry matter being transported, which increases the price of transportation. However, transporting beet pulp, which has moderate protein and high energy, may be economically feasible over short distances.

Product storage is another factor that should be considered. Products can be stored in several ways, upright bins; silage bags, bunkers, or bins; open pits and bunkers; and baling. Storage of high moisture products, such as beet pulp, can be accomplished through ensiling. Grain residues may be grazed, but care should be taken for protein, where additional supplementation may be needed.

These are several factors to consider when feeding alternative feeds in your beef cattle operation. Conducting a nutrient analysis is one of the best ways to mitigate feeding issues. Contact your local Extension Agent or Extension Specialist with any further questions regarding feeding alternative feeds.