Wheat, cotton, peanuts, rice and even milo can substitute the usual corn and soybean rations that are becoming too costly for beef producers to consider as winter forages, says Justin Sexten, a University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist.

“Look at everything and compare prices. Compare prices based on nutritive value. Cheap feed might not be the best buy,” says Sexten. The best choices, he notes, probably depend on what’s available.

“Most feeders see corn at $8/bu as out of sight,” he says. When compared on price and feeding value, however, corn provides cheaper feed than soybean hulls, for example.

“The $8 corn calculates out at $285/ton compared to $300/ton for soybean hulls,” Sexten says. However, corn with high starch content has limited use in a forage diet. Too much starch added to the cow’s rumen upsets microbes that digest forage fibers.

Price and feeding value will determine what to use, he adds. “As soybean prices continue to drop during harvest, keep an eye on soybean meal, a traditional supplement. It may become competitive. Soybean meal has twice the protein value of corn gluten feed.”

Sexten advises producers to learn more about different alternative feeds. “Cottonseed meal is quite different from cottonseed hulls. Cottonseed hulls, with high fiber, can be used in a calf ration. Cottonseed meal might be best for cows eating low-quality CRP hay, high in fiber.”

Soybean hulls have more nutrients than the hulls of cotton, peanuts or rice, Sexten says. Cottonseed hulls and peanut hulls are used for fiber in diets. Rice hulls are best used for poultry litter.

Each supplement has a different level of protein and energy. Distillers grain from ethanol has more protein, energy and fat than corn gluten, for example.

The range of nutrient levels in winter forages, especially low-end hay, will add to the challenges of feeding cow herds. The drought lowered crude-protein content in much of the harvested hay, Sexten points out. If a hay-quality test shows hay with a crude protein content that's below 7%, provide supplements, the beef nutritionist says.

For price comparisons on dozens of alternative feeds, visit the MU Beef Resource Web site. MU byproduct price lists have been updated weekly since the 1980s.

Go to beef.missouri.edu to click on co-product lists. The lists show feed, vendor, location and price.