Meteer: Quality feed options exist for cattle farmers

Cattle graze in a Mason County pasture, with 49% of Illinois pastures rating good to excellent as of Sept. 13, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)

Cattle farmers aiming to keep feed costs down have a number of quality options around the state.

And, looking ahead, fall represents a good time to set up grazing opportunities for 2021, according to Travis Meteer, University of Illinois Extension beef specialist.

He discussed cattle feeding options, pasture conditions and the ongoing silage harvest during a recent interview with the RFD Radio Network.

“We have some dry spots, but conditions are more favorable,” Meteer said. “It’s nice to see some green grass.”

Pasture conditions previously deteriorated from 62% good to excellent Aug. 30 to just 42% as of Sept. 6.

Fortunately, silage harvest cranked up in recent weeks to fill the void.

“A lot of cattle producers rely on corn silage as a cow feed and base for feedlot rations. There’s no quicker way to make a lot of feed than corn silage,” Meteer said. “We’ve had good yields so far. The key is to make sure to monitor moisture.”

The target for total plant moisture should be around 65%, or 35% dry matter. Silage storage in bags offers a little more flexibility than bunks in terms of moisture, but if readings are low, farmers should consider adding an inoculant.

“The key to any silage is to get good fermentation and having the right moisture, the right pack and good sugars in the plant,” the beef specialist noted.

Meanwhile, low crop prices and availability of corn by-products around the state, including wet corn gluten, offer other quality feed options.

“We’ve experienced rough (cattle) markets, and there’s been many challenges for producers. But there are opportunities to keep costs down on the feed side,” Meteer said. “We’ve had pretty cheap feed costs and we have opportunities for local feed buys.”

Farmers should also take measures this fall to enhance grazing opportunities next year.

“Fall is a good time to soil sample to see where you are on fertility levels and apply some weed control for woody perennials,” he said. “It’s a good time to set ourselves up for success for the following year.”

Meteer also recommends the use of some type of cover crop mix, from oats, turnips and a legume to cereal rye for a fall grazing opportunity.

“For cattle producers, if you’re not utilizing cover crops to help produce some level of cow feed or grazing opportunity, you’re really missing the boat,” he added.