When the constituents of a ration are being decided upon, two main things are considered – feed value and cost.
The feed value that we are typically speaking about relates to energy content or UFL (1UFL is equivalent to the energy level in a kilo of air dried barley) and protein, typically measured in terms of crude protein (CP) content.
To know if a feed ingredient is, in fact value for money, we need to be able to base it off another feed.
For Irish rations, this is usually done off rolled barley (for energy) and soya bean meal (for protein). Currently, rolled barley is trading at around €285/t, while soya bean meal is costing €450/t.
The relative feed value of all other feeds as shown in the graphics compares their feed value in relation to barley and soya. Where the relative feed value is greater than the current feed price, this means the ingredient is currently good value for money.
Unfortunately, given where world grain prices are currently, there is little value in the market, perhaps highlighting how difficult things are.
Availability and freight costs of feed are making it difficult for feed merchants to secure steady supplies while, in some cases, there is a reluctance from merchants to purchase too far ahead given how hot the market is.
What this means at farm level is that ration prices have crept above the €300/t mark and speaking to feed merchants this week, the likelihood of further price rises in the new year look inevitable.
Based on the prices of alternatives, barley is still going to be the main energy constituent in rations this winter. Maize is currently trading €9/t above its relative feed value.
However, it will still be seen in many rations this year as it does offer the added benefit of being a safer energy source than barley in that it is more slowly digested meaning there is a lower acidosis risk when feeding at higher rates.
Finishers also like to have it included in rations as they feel it helps to achieve carcase fat scores, especially with continental cattle.
Looking at the protein feeds, unfortunately there doesn’t look to be many alternatives to soya bean meal that offer any added value for money.
Palm kernel and distillers are currently the closest priced to their relative feed value.
One thing to note is that the feed merchants that were spoken to this week are not quoting a price for beans as although they are being used in rations at low inclusion levels, none were selling them as straights.
Where there is some value to be found is in forage. Where meal is being fed to stretch or preserve fodder resources, it really needs to be questioned given the current cost of ration. With average-quality grass silage bales having a relative feed value (based on rolled barley at €285/t and soya at €450/t) of €29/bale, the current market value of silage is currently well below this price and offers value for money.
The relative feed value of forage is the value of the feed delivered to the mouth of the animal. Any costs such as haulage or preparing/mixing need to be allowed for when purchasing forages.
Fodder beet possibly looks quite well priced at the moment as an alternative source of energy in finishing diets. With a UFL of 1.12, it is a high energy feed that can replace rolled barley at a ratio of 5kg fodder beet for every 1kg of rolled barley.
An added bonus of fodder beet is that it can drive intake levels in cattle which will obviously lead to higher levels of daily gain. However, the inclusion of fodder beet can be dependent on location and proximity to supply in addition to how well the farm is set up for feeding it.