More spuds go to herds
Feed market has become a welcome channel for growers
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Based on $8-per-bushel corn prices, the value of potatoes for animal feed is roughly $3.20 per hundredweight, according to a study by University of Idaho Extension economist Joe Guenthner.
Guenthner concluded the feed value of spuds rises 40 cents for every $1 increase in the price of a bushel of corn.
Guenthner acknowledged spud feed prices are well below growers' production costs. Nonetheless, the feed market has been a welcome channel for growers recently, given the large 2012 crop has depressed fresh prices.
Low-quality spuds and potato processing waste have long been used as animal feed. This year, however, Guenthner said many good tubers are being fed to cattle. He anticipates more spuds will be used for feed than in past years with large potato crops because of strong corn prices, inflated by corn ethanol production and drought in the Midwest.
"I talked to a grower this morning who sold some fresh potatoes, and the final payout was $1 per hundredweight," Guenthner said. "There are some instances right now where the value of potatoes in the livestock feed market is higher than the human food value."
Guenthner said spuds can be substituted for grain feed without sacrificing nutrition, but dairies want to achieve a savings before they'll use them for feed due to added challenges.
"If the potatoes are available at a reasonable price -- and right now it looks like $40 per ton is a good price for potatoes -- it's a good option to feed in the neighborhood of 10-15 pounds (per head)," UI Extension dairy specialist Rick Norell said. "It will help dairies reduce feed costs by about 5 cents per head if you take out some of the barley and replace it with potatoes."
Since potatoes are 80 percent water, transportation is a limiting factor. It takes a while for cows to acclimate to a new feed source. Stones and dirt mixed with spuds can be hard on the teeth of cattle and can reduce their feed intake, Norell said. Furthermore, Norell said chemicals in green or sprouting spuds can make cattle sick. Norell said at least half of cattle rations should be dry matter, and he wouldn't feed animals more than 25 to 35 pounds of spuds per day. Norell advises starting cattle with limited spud rations and gradually increasing them.
UI Extension beef cattle specialist Benton Glaze said storing feed spuds on concrete can prevent a loader from also scooping dirt and stones. Covering spuds protects them from sunlight, which can lead to greening, he added.
To protect cattle from choking, he suggests feeding whole spuds after other rations so cattle don't consume them too quickly, or crushing them with a loader, tractor or other equipment.
Glaze said adding a rail 2.5 to 3 feet above a feeding trough is also advisable so cattle don't lift their heads and choke while eating.
"Feed cattle producers are doing like the dairy producers, and trying to cheapen their rations and are using some of the potatoes to replace their grain needs," Glaze said.