Strategies to help drought-stricken beef producers deal with inadequate harvests were presented at a mid-November meeting hosted by Iowa State University Extension and the Iowa Beef Center.

It’s especially important to have the forage quality of hay and corn silage tested this year, advised Denise Schwab, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist. “Whatever you have to feed your herd you can build a ration from it, but you need to know what you are starting with.”

Slightly stressed corn silage maintains its feed value, but silage that’s severely stressed should be supplemented based on the nutrient analysis, she said.

Producers should match feed supplies to their animals’ stage of production, with third-trimester cows receiving optimal rations. If the majority of calving is in spring, producers could use their best-quality feedstuffs in March and April and low-quality silage and hay this fall. Use bunker-stored silage first, as bagged silage can be resealed to retain quality longer.

Be aware that nitrate levels may be reported in nitrates, potassium nitrates or nitrate-nitrogen, Schwab warned. Producers should pay attention to the type of analysis to determine toxicity levels.

Beef producers will need more loads of silage if the silage is droughty, since it has less fiber and is “fluffier,” she said. “It’s good for energy but you will need more of it.” Also, low-yielding corn silage tends not to pack as tightly.

Schwab recommended feeding an ionophore such as Rumensin to increase feed efficiency and control coccidiosis. “If you are short on feed, this will take 10% off the top of your needs.”

Reduce feed waste with proper storage. Bagged silage wastes only about 10%, covered trenches and bunkers lose about 20% and uncovered trenches or bunkers can average up to 30% losses.

Cows fed hay on the ground only once every few days can waste up to 25% of it. Silage from bunks or piles has less than a 5% loss if cows are fed only what they will eat each day.

Schwab suggested that producers choose hay feeders wisely. A cone-style feeder wastes less than 4% of feed; a ring feeder, 6.1%; a trailer, 11.4%; and a cradle, 14.6%, according to a Michigan State University study. With a round bale of hay at $90, feeding in a cone feeder instead of on the ground can save up to $20 per bale.