How we feed our herd
We currently feed our herd in the winter using bales that are unrolled by our 1976 Chevrolet Army truck with bale handler, named Jack. I believe Jack is truly the key to success in our operation. Jack was the feed truck that Clay's parents used to feed their herd each winter for 20+ years in a row, and when they upgraded and drove Jack 'over the hill', my husband pulled him back out to use for ourselves.
This meant that our input cost for this machine was zero (yay!). And because my father-in-law, and husband are phenomenal mechanics, Jack runs probably more reliably than most new pick ups. Of course maintenance and repairs do come at a cost, but for reference, in 2015 we spent $294.56 on parts and $70 for his yearly oil change. There are no labour costs because my fabulous husband does it all himself! This year we will have a slightly higher Jack cost because of some bigger repairs, probably doubling the cost of 2015 (the numbers are still rolling in).
Our Daily Costs
The fact that we utilize a variety of feed sources is important. We use Alberta Agriculture's Cowbytes ration balancing program and feed test all of our bales to determine the nutritional requirements of our herd. While we could balance their ration with just high quality hay, we simply couldn't afford to do that. So we got creative and calculated a ration with pea straw, greenfeed and hay that would meet the nutritional requirements of our pregnant and calving cows, that was also economical. Because our herd is small and bale size is fixed, we feed 8 pea straw, 4 greenfeed and 2 hay, on average, per week for a herd of 72. Of course this varies with the weather and as the cows mature during pregnancy. Based on that average, it costs us $2.20/head/day in feed alone.
Let's add that to the $0.05/head/day in fuel, using that $120/month average, which means it costs us $2.25/head/day. Now of course, we need to factor in some repair costs on trusty old Jack, so let's add another $0.25/head/day, which would equal a $1620 allowance, assuming a 3 month winter feeding program. Seeing how that is more than triple our 2015 actual costs of maintenance and repair, I'd call that adequate.
So overall, it is costing us $2.50/head/day, conservatively, to feed our cows on our operation, with our bale deck and truck.
The Economics of Bale Grazing
The other option would be to give the herd access to only one type of feed per week. While the waste factor may be less, this is not a valid option in our opinion, as the large swings in nutritional value would be unhealthy for our herd.Therefore, the only option to make bale grazing work on our operation is to feed only one feed source, which would have to be hay in order to reach our nutritional requirements, according to Cowbytes. And with the price we had to pay for hay ($100/bale) due to our drought, that would mean a significant change in cost. The total would be $3.88/head/day. In addition to that, according to Alberta Agriculture's Wintering Site Assessment and Design Tool, bale grazing wastage is 8% higher than unrolling hay onto the snow, the total would rise to $4.19/head/day for our operation!
That is an extra $1.69/head/day, which would amount to a total of $10,951.20 extra for our 72 head herd over 3 months of winter feeding.