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Economists tell us that in a mature industry you must be a low cost producer to survive. The meat industry is ending the century much more mature than it began. Sophisticated production of pork and poultry with the benefit of cheap grain is putting pressure on beef producers. The long-term trend in grain prices is downward because the cost of producing grain is being reduced by three ongoing trends. The continuing enrichment of the atmosphere by CO2 and other greenhouse gases is crop production friendly despite what you may have heard of few years back. Secondly, bio-tech seeds are increasing yields and decreasing unit cost of production. Additionally, governments here and abroad are continuing to subsidize grain producers.
This suggests to me that we, as forage based calf producers, must increase our sophistication and efficiency in feeding the brood cow. Forages are only cheap in relationship to grain when they are directly harvested by the cow. We have come a long ways in the last few decades in reducing the amount of put up hay we feed our cows. To compete with grain based meat production in the new century and millennium we must continue to improve our nutritional management.
Just because you can put up and feed back hundreds of tons of forage, and hardly leave an air-conditioned tractor seat, doesn't mean you can afford it. You may need to sell most of your high quality hay to the dairy or horse industry down the road and look for corn stalks and other cheaper ways of feeding your cows.
I want to share with you how I use a small amount of crop acreage to enhance the economic benefits of a forage harvesting cow herd.