I am hearing many producers say, “I am not planting winter grazing this year, seed costs and fertilizer is just too high.” My first question is, “are you sure?” To put it bluntly, this year is not the year to NOT plant winter grazing. Why? Well, your first statement is correct, input costs remain high and we aren’t seeing the increased revenue to compensate those inputs. But here’s the reality: hay quality is down, grain and supplement prices are up, and winter grazing is still the most economically feasible way to feed cattle this winter. Let’s look at the math.   

This year we are seeing hay costs upwards of $75 a bale and closer to $100 a bale in some places. The USDA Market report prices average bermudagrass hay at $165 a ton. At $165 a ton, that is costing you $1.98 per head per day. However, there is more to it than just feeding hay. Nutrient requirements for a 1,200 lbs. lactating cow include 60% total digestible nutrients (TDN) and 10.5% crude protein. Average hay samples from around Emanuel County and surrounding counties in Georgia, results in an average 55.1% TDN and 10.6% crude protein. While protein from the hay in our area is sufficient, the TDN or energy value indicates the need for supplementing with other feed sources. The only way to know these values for the hay you are feeding is to test it. Work with your county extension agent to determine the quality of the hay you are feeding which will assist you in determining how you need to supplement.

Unfortunately, supplementation can be a very volatile market. Prices tend to vary based on which supplement products you can find in your area. The Memphis USDA report from last week (10/7/2022) reported that soybean hulls were $175/ ton, soybean meal was $440/ ton, and cottonseed was $450/ ton. Locally priced supplements include Mix-30 liquid feed is roughly $600/ ton, whole cottonseed at $380/ ton, and a 50:50 corn gluten/ soybean hull mix at $280.00/ ton. With these prices in mind, providing energy supplementation would cost you another ~$0.37 per head per day and increase your total feed cost to $2.35 per head per day. To feed 100 head for 120 days on lower to mid quality hay, that will cost you an additional $4,440 on top of the $165/ ton of hay you are already feeding.

So just how much are you going to pay to plant some sort of winter grazing? Even with seed costs and fertilizer costs being much higher than previous years, you can expect your input costs for ryegrass grazing to be roughly $142 per acre which includes fertilizer, seed, labor, diesel, and grain drill assumptions. When translating this to a per head per day basis, you can expect your cost to be roughly $1.14 per head per day. While we can’t completely cut our hay consumption out, grazing ryegrass will reduce the need for supplemental energy and protein and save money on our operation.

What happens if I don’t supplement or utilize winter forages? It all comes back to cow performance. Cattle that are not having their energy needs met will experience poor appetite, weight loss, poor growth, depressed reproductive performance, and reduced milk production. What exactly does this mean for your farm? Well, to put it lightly, your cattle will likely wean lighter calves, resulting in less calf crop and revenue for the year. Your cattle may not breed back as quickly or even slip some calves, resulting again in a reduced calf crop for the next year. Providing optimum nutrition is the best way to ensure we aren’t losing more profit with our livestock now and in the future.

So where does that leave us? Years like 2022 are the years that preserving farm longevity and future revenue is crucial. Unfortunately, this means spending money but doing so strategically. UGA Extension recommends utilizing tools and techniques such as hay rings, hay barns, rotational grazing, and hay testing to maximize forage usage. Using these techniques, you can ensure you are feeding quality feedstuffs while reducing the amount of supplementation, minimizing storage losses, and maximizing your grazing utilization. If you have questions, you can contact your local county extension agent.