Cowbytes software saves money on winter feeding

Rations Producers can modify the nutrient content of feed components based on their own feed test results

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Cowbytes is a cattle ration balancing program developed by Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. It allows producers to optimize the use of homegrown feeds by only purchasing supplements that are necessary or by taking advantage of lower-cost alternative feeds or byproducts. In this way, producers can often reduce feed costs while meeting production targets or even boosting productivity and profitability.

“The program allows producers to select the type and breeds of cattle they want to feed, and productivity levels based on body weight, average daily gain in growing cattle, or body condition score, stage of gestation or milk production level in cows,” says Patrick Ramsey, business development specialist — beef competitiveness with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. “Producers can also adjust for climatic conditions such as temperature, wind speed, or mud in pens, as well as for hide thickness and summer or winter hair coat depth that is dry or wet.”

The program comes with a feed table based on average values of Alberta feeds. After selecting feeds from the feed table, producers can modify the nutrient content of these feeds based on their own feed test results. Then they enter the amounts fed of the various feeds to balance the ration for energy, protein, major minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, trace minerals such as copper, zinc, manganese and selenium, and vitamins A and E. The program also allows producers to enter water analysis which may affect the feeding program especially in salt and mineral intake.

“Once the ration is balanced producers can create a feed mix, such as a grain mix, or grain/silage/supplement mix, or mineral/salt/vitamin mix, and create batch-scale sheets in increments that allow for adjusting the levels of the mix for increased size of the cattle,” says Ramsey. “The number of head for the feeding period can also be entered to create a ration summary report of all the feeds used in the various rations for different groups of cattle, to determine the inventory of feeds that will be required. This helps producers to purchase more feed in advance or to sell some animals to match feed inventory with cattle requirements.”

Yardage calculator

One of the new features of Cowbytes Version 5 is a yardage calculator. This allows producers to enter their facility and equipment costs, expected life of these facilities and equipment, expected salvage values, annual interest rates, taxes, insurance and other costs such as vet/med, utilities, repairs, fuel, corral cleaning, labour, additional insurance and interest along with the number of cattle and number of days on feed to determine yardage costs per head per day. This is especially important if producers are overwintering someone else’s cattle on a custom rate per-head per-day basis as often producers underestimate their yardage costs. The Cowbytes Manual has also been expanded to include everything producers would ever want to know about cattle nutrition while also having a very practical beef ration rules of thumb section.

“By playing with the amounts fed of various combinations of feeds and byproducts at different prices, producers can find ways to reduce feed costs while achieving production targets,” explains Ramsey. “One time I helped a producer shave off $0.10 per cow per day by cutting back on feeding levels during mid-gestation. For 900 cows for 30 days this amounted to a saving of $2,700. Most producers will easily find $1,000 in feed savings for overwintering their cattle, by scouting around for some cheaper alternative feeds such as crop residues and byproducts, and by using this program to prevent over- or underfeeding while getting the performance they desire. Boosting your cattle’s performance could lead to even greater returns.”

Cowbytes can be ordered online on the Alberta Agriculture website or by calling the publications office toll-free at 1-800-292-5697.

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