In drought, byproduct feeds help cow herds on short pastures, hay

In the 2018 drought forages for cow herds are short. Without rain, pastures didn’t grow and stored hay for winter feeding fell short. But feed options are at hand that were not available before.

This drought has more feed grains available at possibly lower prices, says Scott Brown, University of Missouri beef economist.

Missourians hard hit by forage shortages have byproduct feeds available. The leftovers from making ethanol or biodiesel provide feed to fill the forage gap.

“This drought is unlike the 2012 drought,” Brown says “This one varies across the state. Even across small areas, some beef farmers are hit harder than others.”

MU Extension beef nutritionist Eric Bailey says herd owners should supplement the forage. Hay is not only in short supply, much of it is poor quality.

“Poor hay needs energy supplement,” Bailey says.

“Corn and soyhulls have been the cheapest commodity feeds in Missouri this summer,” he adds.

“Don’t get complicated in making daily rations,” Bailey tells farmers. “Focus on getting energy calories into cows. Five pounds of corn plus 5 pounds of soyhulls supplements even straw or baled cornstalks.”

High-price hay makes lower-cost byproducts appealing, the MU specialists tell farmers.

Producers must shift their way of thinking about wintering their herds, Brown says. This takes changing feeding routines. It may require adding on-farm feed storage.

Help in finding lower-cost feeds is available on the MU Extension Agricultural Electronic Bulletin Board (

The MU feed source service is updated weekly on AgEBB. To find the nearest, least expensive or most available feed, a farmer need not make many phone calls shopping for feed. Calling is done every week by AgEBB specialists.

Bailey has been kept busy teaching producers how to extend available pastures and types of forage. For some it means weaning calves early and culling unproductive cows. Some producers have made silage or balage from varied crops.

Now, bulk supplied feeds may be available at biofuel plants or other places.

The AgEBB alternative feed page goes beyond state lines for sources in neighboring states. Iowa and Illinois crop farmers had more favorable growing seasons than Missourians.

In the 2012 drought, the impact was across the Corn Belt. With grain shortages, crop prices shot up. This time, Missouri has greater yield loss than other states in the region.

“Drastic price increases are not as likely this year,” Brown says. “Shopping for byproduct feeds may offer less expensive rations for maintaining cow herds.”

Both Brown and Bailey speak on Sept. 17 at the MU Thompson Farm west of Spickard. Nutrition was added to talks on heifer breeding and genetics. Brown’s price outlooks gain value as profit margins shrink from feed prices.

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Farmers can find help on cattle rations from regional livestock specialists through local MU Extension centers.

On the web, search for AgEBB By-Product Feed Price List or go to