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5 supplement areas that provide the biggest bang for your buck

Dan Dhuyvetter for Progressive Cattleman Published on 26 May 2016
cows eating

Most cattle producers know that by making small, but key investments in their herds, they can receive significant financial returns. Investments in what bulls are purchased, disease prevention methods employed or forage management programs implemented can help optimize returns.

One of the most impacting areas is your herd’s nutrition program. It can be a delicate balancing act knowing how much to feed, when to feed and to which animals, but with the right combination, supplementing can provide predictable returns on investment.

Outlined below are five areas where supplemental nutrition can most easily impact cow-calf profitability.

1) Pre-calving through breeding

This is one of the most critical times to pay attention to your herd’s nutrition program. Not only does it affect calf health and performance this year, but it can easily impact future production by positively or negatively influencing cow reproduction.

Supplemental nutrition in the last 60 to 90 days before calving should be targeted to keep cows from losing significant body weight or condition, while maintaining fetal growth. This will help the cows start cycling, so they can be bred to calve early in the calving season.

Successful cow-calf herds have a forage base that meets nutritional requirements throughout much of the year. It is when cow requirements dramatically increase, from pre-calving through breeding, that supplemental nutrition is key to maintaining profitable reproductive efficiencies.

Late gestation is also important for delivering ample fetal nutrients that provide for calf vigor and micronutrient supplies early in life. Make sure to follow through by supplementing (when needed) to help reinforce nature’s “spring green up” to signal it’s time for breeding.

2) Summer mineral and vitamin delivery

Typical forage programs should provide ample protein and energy for meeting cow requirements when grazing summer pastures. Mineral and vitamin supplementation, however, can often help keep the herd from experiencing an outright deficiency or depleting body stores to make up for a limiting nutrient that restricts their genetic potential performance.

When meeting vitamin, macro- and micro-mineral requirements, use the same delivery system and include a feed-through growth regulator or larvicide for fly control. Reducing pressure from horn flies alone has demonstrated consistent benefits in animal performance and economic returns.

3) Late summer and fall protein delivery

Managing cow body condition is a very effective tool in reducing winter feed bills. As forages mature during late summer and fall, a little extra protein will easily give a nice response in improved forage utilization that results in maintaining cow weight and condition. This will decrease the need for making up any weight needed later on, when it becomes extremely difficult during the more harsh winter months.

Cow weight gain response can be quite dramatic once calves have been weaned and nutrients are no longer needed for milk. This is where the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” really applies. Small amounts of protein can help tweak rumen fermentation to capture more nutrients from pastures or crop residues that are rapidly declining in quality.

4) Seasonal, regional and environmental opportunities

There are many situations that are specific to forage type, environmental conditions or regional geographies where supplementing your cow herd becomes a necessity in order to prevent major losses. Some of these can include grass tetany or bloat conditions, soil mineral imbalances, endophyte-infected fescue pastures or probably the most impacting of all – drought conditions.

I listened to a speaker this past year who said, “Cattle producers are generally managing from one drought to the next.” Abrupt and extended reductions in moisture is something that everyone has faced and will continue to deal with going forward. The uncertainty of how long a drought will last makes supplementation strategies fluid at best. Be proactive. Hold cows in as best condition as possible and prioritize females within your herd for culling. Once cows have been nutritionally stressed for an extended period, they more easily succumb to disease, nutritional insults, toxicities and nutrient imbalances.

5) Replacement heifers and stockers

This may not be directly related to a beef cow herd, but for growing cattle, including heifers grazing pastures, a supplement delivery of a feed additive simply makes sense. The approximate 10 percent increase in average daily gains from the delivery of these additives in addition to the nutrients that are supplied in a supplement makes this an easy addition to the top-five list. Supplements can be formulated for lush growing pastures or can include protein as forages mature to meet the needs of developing heifers and stocker cattle.

5+) Preweaning and weaning calf supplementation

This “5+” deals with calves rather than the cow herd; however, with the value of calves today, it becomes extremely important to make sure they are well cared for as they make the transition from a grazing environment with their mother to an independent ration-based feeding regimen. The loss of even one calf is significant dollars. Any type of supplementation program, which can help in this transition process and prepare calves for disease challenges and stress that they face, will greatly improve the value of calves whether ownership is retained or transferred. Provide calves with the nutrients they need for developing optimal immune function to deal with stress and to start on feed without delay.  end mark

Dan Dhuyvetter
  • Dan Dhuyvetter

  • Director of Marketing
  • Research and Nutrition Services
  • Ridley Block Operations
  • Email Dan Dhuyvetter

PHOTO: A supplemental nutrition program is critical to profitability and is even more so at different stages of production. Photo provided by Ridley Block Operations.

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