Feed costs represent nearly two-thirds of the total cost of raising beef feeder cattle in the Great Plains and West. Harvested forage from wild meadows is an important input to such operations, especially in the northern and central Great Plains and inter-mountain West. Feed costs can be reduced if cattle producers manage their hay production by adjusting harvest date and N-fertilization to achieve the optimal tradeoff between quality and quantity. This requires that the producer knows the feeding value of different quality hay. However, market prices for wild hay seldom reflect quality and methods for valuing quality are not well established. We develop a method and derive an equation that measures the value of quality. This equation calculates the per pound cost savings (i.e., benefit) of feeding bay of improved quality, given production costs and prices of feed substitutes. The cost savings ('price premium') equation is incorporated into a continuous model for maximizing the net value (NV) of hay through the choice of N-fertilizer level and harvest date. The model is applied to agronomic data from research conducted on a sedge-dominated, wet meadow site in the Nebraska Sandhills. The agronomic data included crop yield, crude protein (CP), and total digestible nutrients for four N-fertilizer levels and three first cutting harvest dates. The analysis shows that quality and quantity management of hay can yield NVs that are 23 to 38%/acre higher than when only quantity is considered. Optimal harvest dates are 9 to 20 d earlier than the normal start date of harvest (5 July) in the Nebraska Sandhills. Optimal N-fertilizer quantity is increased by valuing quality. However, our analysis also indicates that when there is concern about nitrates leaching to groundwater, N can be reduced by over 25 lb/acre with less than a $1/acre loss in NV. The study shows that valuing quality has an important effect on economically optimal harvest dates and fertilizer levels. In addition, it demonstrates that knowing how to produce higher quality forage will help cow/calf producers reduce costs.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Plant Science