BADGER - With low pasture quality coming out of the 2012 drought year, and with at least some of the same weather expected for 2013, dairy and cattle producers are facing mammoth feeding challenges.
The Iowa Beef Center and Iowa State University Extension held a series of feed management meetings throughout the state to help cow-calf and feedlot operators manage consequences of the drought, develop management plans and provide an outlook of the next few years.
Video recordings from Lee Schulz, an ISU livestock economist, and Elwynn Taylor, ISU's climatologist, were presented to the group of nearly 10 producers and a program on utilizing and supplementing 2012 feedstuffs, controlling costs, developing feed plans and feed delivery was presented by Russ Euken, Iowa State University Extension beef field specialist.
Have a plan
Euken suggested producers have as their No. 1 priority a feed plan.
During 2013, Euken said, producers will be facing higher feed costs, purchasing alternate feedstuffs, and other issues the drought has created.
He said producers' feed plans should consider using available feeds and assure they meet their animals' nutritional requirements, as well as ensure they are cost-effective by minimizing waste and excess labor and equipment costs.
He listed available feeds as corn silage, which there has been an increased amount harvested this year; good quality hay, that is unfortunately in low supply and high in price; CRP hay, which is marginal in quality and supply and high-priced and cornstalks, which creates the challenge of how to supplement them.
Euken said he was mildly surprised how tests show that despite the drought, producers harvested a large amount of high-quality corn silage.
"It was as pretty close to normal silage when compared to nutritional values," he said, "Especially when it comes to energy."
Sampling and testing feed is the only way to truly know the nutrient analysis and although getting an overall sample can be a challenge, it is recommended, he said.
When it comes to feeding cornstalks, Euken said it is hard to tell just how much the cattle are actually consuming and cornstalks will need an added energy and protein supplement.
One way to do this is by adding a liquid supplement; however, so much is required it's difficult to determine if the bale can handle all that is needed and if it gets evenly distributed throughout the bale.
Grinding the cornstalks, Euken said, will help reduce waste and also increases intake.
High-energy, low-protein feeds like corn silage, Euken said, may be able to utilize a non-protein nitrogen source.
NPN can be used to meet metabolizable protein needs.
Delivery of the feed should be considered just as much as the quality of the feed.
Things producers should consider, Euken said, include how to deliver available feed, equipment and facilities needed, weather and location, and inventory of the quality of feed.
Euken suggested feeding in small amounts and proper placement of the feed to help reduce waste. Also, to be sure to feed outside-stored feed first and then what was kept inside.
Nitrates were a concern and although rates have shown to be low with only a small percentage of feed tested showing danger levels, Euken said, nitrate levels should still be considered and the feed tested.
Treating low-quality forages
Using chemical treatments, such as the more popular calcium oxide or calcium hydroxide and even anhydrous ammonia, has been shown to increase digestibility in beef cattle diets.
Euken said that in the 1970s a great deal of research was done treating forages with chemicals.
By adding an alkaline-based chemical to a high-fiber feedstuff, he said, disrupts the hydrogen bonds that make the hemicellulose and cellulose easier to digest.
The disadvantages to using a chemical treatment, Euken said, are the labor and equipment involved; the supply of high quality stover and straw needed and the large amounts of water that are required for the application.
Calcium oxide, Euken said, can also help replace calcium in the diet and is much safer and cheaper than other chemicals used and an 8 to 15 percent improvement in forage digestibility can be expected.
Schulz said recent national pasture quality conditions have been reported as 70 percent poor to very poor. In the Corn Belt region pasture quality has been reported at 50 percent poor to very poor conditions.
Although pasture quality is poor, pasture rental rates continue to rise.
Pasture rental rates, Schulz said are positively related to cattle prices as well as corn prices.
"We will continue to see high rental rates and they will also rise as corn prices increase, so I don't expect to see lower rents next year," said Schulz.
High trends are also expected to continue with hay prices, Schulz said, as supply becomes a concern.
Also on the rise are meat prices.
Schulz said the shortage discussions, such as bacon, that have been spreading like wildfire are most likely exaggerations, but the record retail meat prices are not, and "as the prices increase, the public will require more quality or value-added products," he said.
Drought to linger
Taylor briefly discussed the ongoing serious drought, although he doesn't predict a 2012 drought for 2013, he said to not expect perfect growing conditions either.
"2013 will likely be the fourth year of below-trend yields," Taylor said. " We will experience the remnants of the drought."
Throughout the past few years, Taylor said farmers weather as been shifting between El Nino and La Nina patterns. Typically, in a La Nina year, he said, "we will see a 70 percent below-trend in U.S. corn yields; while in an El Nino year, we will see the opposite, a 70 percent above-trend in U.S. corn yields.
"A chance of an El Nino in 2013 seems remote."