In a 50-cow herd, the least expensive winter feeding strategy is to offer free-choice cornstalk residue and handfeed DDGS, he said. If producers use a tractor to feed DDGS instead of buckets, they are better off to feed free-choice hay. Feeding total mixed rations requires more equipment which in turn increases cost for the producer. In a 100-cow herd, hand feeding with buckets is not the most practical, but it's the cheapest. With this size of a herd, producers can use a tractor to deliver DDGS to the cattle at a more economical price per day than free-choice hay.

The major savings occurs in a bigger cow herd with more than 200 cows. The total mixed rations at $2.33 per cow a day become even more comparable to feeding free-choice cornstalk residue and DDGS at $2.21 per cow a day. In contrast, the free-choice hay is $3.21 per cow a day.

"We thought one of the advantages of grinding cornstalk residue was reducing wasted feed as compared to free-choice hay," Shike said. "But whatever we saved in unwasted stalks did not compensate for the added equipment cost to have both a grind and mix wagon as compared to a conventional feeding wagon. Even though those treatments were close, putting out a bale of cornstalks and feeding DDGS was always a little cheaper than grinding them together."

The key to profitable cow-calf production is to keep feed costs at a minimum. This information will help producers of various herd sizes not only select which feedstuffs to use, but also which delivery method best fits their operation, reducing feed costs and maximizing profitability.