To most Oklahomans, late summer may be considered the driest time of the year. In actuality, December, January, and February are the driest reported months of the year in since the Mesonet began in 1994. This year, the research proves true as large areas of Oklahoma are rolling over 100 days of less than 0.25 inches of rainfall. With below normal precipitation in the outlook for the coming month or more, producers with cattle on wheat pasture are at a cross-roads; haul the feed or hitch up the trailer and turn them into cash?

Before hitting default and hauling feed, producers should take a moment to consider several things to ensure success. Producers should first inventory available feedstuffs. Hay samples should be collected and sent off for analysis. An analysis is essential to determining the nutrient deficiencies in the hay and identifying which energy or protein feed source will work best for the feeding situation. Calculate cost of gain with estimated feed costs.

A strategy to stretch wheat pasture in low forage situations is to provide a feed supplement at 1% of body weight on a daily basis. Oklahoma State University has done a number of different studies that examine the effects of different supplement in low forage situations. In one situation, calves grazing wheat pastures with less than 300 pounds of forage per acre were supplemented with one of three supplements; whole corn, dry rolled corn, or a 50/50 blend of wheat middlings and soybean hulls. These supplements were fed six days per week to steers stocked initially at 3.5 acres per head or 1,050 pounds forage. By the end of the study, pounds of forage increased to 1,500 pounds per steer. Overall gain was 2.2 pounds per day after the 84 day trial and performance did not differ between treatments.

Other “forage-stretching” feed options include Dried Distiller’s Grains (DDGS) plus free-choice hay (5% CP, 56%TDN) fed at 0.75 to 1.65% of body weight, or whole cottonseed fed at 0.5 to 0.75% body weight. Whole cottonseed can be problematic to handle mechanically, so increased manual labor is a consideration; however, there is a feeder manufacturer (Herd Boss) that makes a mechanical feeder, mounted on the bed of a truck, that effectively handles feedstuffs that are noted for lodging and bridging. If you have interest, I can direct you toward sources for the feeder and whole cottonseed.

Feed costs are not the only components in the cost of gain calculation. Also consider labor, feed delivery, fuel and death loss. Cost of gain assessments can then be paired with the value of gain to estimate if feeding will be a profitable venture. The value of gain is the difference in the value of the cattle at time of purchase and the value at sale time divided by the difference in weight. For a better picture of the situation, let’s look at an example.

First, assuming an average rent for wheat pasture of $0.40 per pound of gain, if producers are considering pulling completely off wheat into a dry lot of some sort, $0.40 could be utilized to account for yardage costs.

By utilizing the value of calves sold in the current market and estimating future cost using, an estimated value of gain can be calculated. For instance, on January 26th, the price for 670 pound calves was $158.78/cwt. March futures were priced at $145.60/cwt. March basis values for 750 pound calves were $5.24 which bring the total value of the March contracts to $150.84. The difference in the total value of those calves ($1,131.30-$1063.83) divided by the difference in weight (750 lbs. – 670 lbs.) brings the value of gain to $0.84. Subtracting pasture rent ($0.40) to the total value of gain ($0.84) leaves $0.44 to cover costs for feed, delivery, labor, and fuel. In this situation, stretching wheat pasture by feeding will be profitable only if costs per pound of gain are maintained below $0.44. Keep in mind, this example does not include costs of labor or equipment which are essential parts of the calculation. Also realize that value of gain will change on a daily basis as the market changes and calculations should be redone periodically to ensure accuracy. The challenge for producers is to do these calculations with their own numbers to ensure profitability in any feeding situation.

Do not hesitate to call the local County OSU Cooperative Extension office if you have any questions regarding short wheat pasture, supplements, or value of gain.

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Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, national origin, disability or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity