Rising annual costs of beef cow-calf production have increased the value of every grazing day and of high-quality hay, says Mark McCann, Virginia Tech Extension animal scientist.

Although the trend is up on all expenses, he says pasture cost continues to be one of the most stable costs over time.

“Given the current cost environment, the value of grazed forage has increased when compared to a day of winter hay feeding,” says McCann. “Secondly, the quality of the hay has become more of an issue when you consider the cost of supplying TDN or protein from feed grains or byproducts to balance the nutrient needs that are unmet when feeding poor hay.”

Economic analyses of cow-calf records in a number of Midwestern and Great Plains states consistently show that high-profit operations have low annual winter feed costs and low-profit operations have above-average winter costs. Virginia Cooperative Extension budgets indicate that it costs about $1.35/day to feed grass hay to a 1,200-lb cow during winter. A 90-day winter feeding period totals $121.50/cow/year. However, if the hay feeding period is 135 days, the cost totals $182/cow.

“Extending the grazing season 30-45 days can have an important financial impact on the herd,” says McCann. “Generally, as long as there is green grass to graze, supplement is not needed. Depending on cow nutrient needs and hay quality, significant investment in supplement can be needed to achieve the same result as grazing stockpiled fescue.”

He lists these key management steps:

  1. Maximize grazing and minimize the use of stored forages.
  2. Store forages to minimize weather damage and loss.
  3. Test forages to ensure that supplementation is accurate and efficient.