Sweet times for US cows

2012-09-23 22:02
(Supplied)

(Supplied)

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Kansas City - Mike Yoder's herd of dairy cattle is living the sweet life.

With maize scarcer and costlier than ever, Yoder increasingly is looking for cheaper alternatives and this year he found a good deal on ice cream sprinkles.

"It's a pretty colourful load," said Yoder, who operates about 450 dairy cows on his farm in northern Indiana.

"Anything that keeps the feed costs down."

As the worst drought in half a century has ravaged this year's US maize crop and driven prices sky high, the market for alternative feed rations for beef and dairy cows has also skyrocketed.

Brokers are gathering up discarded food products and putting them out for the highest bid to feed lot operators and dairy producers, who are scrambling to keep their animals fed.

In the mix are cookies, gummy worms, marshmallows, fruit loops, orange peels and even dried cranberries.

Cattlemen are feeding virtually anything they can get their hands on that will replace the starchy sugar content traditionally delivered to the animals through maize.

Feed is generally the largest single production expense for cattle operators. Whatever is fed needs to supply energy and protein levels that meet the animals' nutritional needs.

High prices for soy has operators seeking alternatives for both maize and soy.

Drought

Maize alternatives are in particular demand as supplies are so tight that in some areas of the country, feed maize is not available at any price.

Pricing and availability of the many different "co-products" as they are called, varies from place to place, but buyers report savings of between 10 - 50%.

The savings for operators are shrinking, however, as savvy resellers tie pricing for their alternative offerings to the price of maize, which surged to record highs this year due to drought damage.

The US department of agriculture said last month the harvest now underway will yield the smallest maize crop in six years due to the drought that is still gripping more than half of the nation.

And every now and then, there is a little chocolate for the hungry cows.

Hansen Mueller Grain from Omaha, Nebraska, who markets chocolate bars alongside oats and peanut pellets, said it all comes down to fat, sugar and energy.

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