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0906 PD: Water in feed – the cost

Lawson Spicer Published on 21 September 2006

Cows like to eat high-moisture feeds. Remember the cow grazing? There are high-moisture byproduct feedstuffs we can feed our cows. How much do high-moisture feeds really cost? Are they a good buy compared to the alternative? Here is how you can make that decision.

When purchasing high-moisture feeds, you must be sure you are evaluating their cost on an adjusted dry matter basis, usually 90 percent dry matter (DM). For example, would wet brewers grains (25 percent protein on a 90 percent DM basis) offered at 22.5 percent DM for $30 per wet ton delivered be a good buy? Most feeds are purchased or compared on a 90 percent DM basis. The comparative cost (on a 90 percent DM basis) would be 90 percent DM divided by 22.5 percent DM, or a 4-to-1 ratio, multiplied by $30 per ton, for a total of $120 per ton of 90 percent DM.

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Wet brewers grain would be a good buy in most situations. What if the DM changed from 22.5 percent to 18 percent DM – only a 4.5 percent decrease (or 4.5 pounds per 100 pounds added)? The ratio changed to 5-to-1 and the cost increased to $150 per ton. The new cost may be too much.

Sometimes the moisture percentage of high-moisture feeds is underestimated. It is a good practice to check moisture levels on a regular basis to monitor the cost on a 90 percent DM basis. One of the advantages of high-moisture feeds is they can increase feed intake, but wet feeds require more labor and are harder on mixing equipment.

Another example of moisture in feeds is calculating cost for baled hay selling for $160 per ton and green chop alfalfa selling for $40 per wet ton. If the green chop is harvested in March, the ratio may be 5-to-1, the cost would be five times $40 on a wet basis, making the cost $200 per ton on a 90 percent DM basis. This would not be a good buy. At a 4-to-1 feed ratio, it would be equal to the cost of baled hay.

Cost is not the only consideration with high-moisture feeds. The “watermelon syndrome” must be considered. Let’s say a cow was eating 90 pounds of feed. For this cow, you would replace 10 pounds of alfalfa hay with a 4-to-1 alfalfa green chop (40 pounds green chop). The as-fed total feed intake would increase to 120 pounds per cow per day. The 120 pounds is too much for a cow to consume day after day. The cow can consume it for a short period, but not for an entire lactation. In this case, we would have to decide against the alfalfa green chop.

Rations for the cow with less than 50 percent DM do not work for long periods of time. Find a moisture level for the ration that is not too wet or too dry. Some ration moisture helps feeds to mix together and limits sorting of feedstuffs.

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The real cost of a feed depends on the moisture level. The key is to check the moisture level of the feed and calculate the cost of the feed on a 90 percent DM basis. PD

Dr. Lawson Spicer for Progressive Dairyman

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