CIC 2020: Practical Nutrition Management - Supplementing Forages on a Budget

Eric Bailey
State Beef Nutrition Specialist, University of Missouri

"Let's start with the pain point," Bailey said. In the last 20 years, we have more than doubled cow costs. However, outside of 2014, we have not seen feed calf prices keep up with cow costs.

At $800 per year cow cost, we need to make $1.60 per pound on a 5 weight steer.

Bailey will cover 3 topics:
  1. Match feed with need
  2. Supplementing based on limiting nutrient
  3. Cost effective supplement selection

Matching Feed with Need

A part of matching feed with need is having seasonally-appropriate calving. Bailey draws a distiction between winter calving (before February 1) and Spring calving. We often lump winter-calving with spring calving, but if you calve before February 1, you are likely not matching your calving to forage availability.

With warm-season forages, until May, the nutritional requirements of the cow are much higher than supplied by grasses. This means we have to spend money supplementing. 

"The body prioritizes nutritional needs," Bailey said. The cow is going to meet her maintenance needs first. We have to be in a nutrition surplus to add condition. Reproduction is near the bottom of the list of prioritized nutritional needs.

Savvy cattle managers are matching the cow nutrient requirement with available feed resources. By calving in April, the cow's nutrient requirements match much more closely the nutritional needs of the cow. By calving in April with warm-season forages, we give a cow a chance to put on condition prior to the start of the breeding season.

Every 2.5 days a calf is weaned early, saves a day of feed for the cow.

Beware of breeding in the heat in the southeast! 

In cool-season forage settings, calving in the fall will likely be more profitable than calving in the spring. In this example, spring calves were sold in November and fall calves were sold in May. Outside the differences in calf weights (spring calving calves weigh more) there are likely many advantages to calving in the fall on Fescue or in the Southeast.

Switching to fall calving has benefited herds grazing toxic fescue. However, this probably not work in the north where there is severe cold-stress on the calves.

"The greatest advantage of the Fescue Belt is the high quality of stockpiled tall fescue." This will often meet or exceed the nutritional requirements of the cows. However, while it is easy to grow high quality stockpiled fescue, growing enough quantity may be an issue.

Supplementing based on limiting nutrient

What is the limiting nutrient? 
Feed intake is often the limiting factor. If cows don't have enough to eat, having the perfectly balance ration won't make a difference.

If feed intake requirements are meet, energy (fat, fiber, starch) and protein are often the limiting factors. Energy and protein have a much larger impact than minerals or vitamins. 

What is your stocking rate and is it appropriate for the region? Remember, bigger cows need more feed.

When there is too little rumen available protein in the diet, the bugs in the gut slow down. This means that intake goes down. With low quality forage, protein may limit intake. Cows that were eating low quality forage were eating 8 pounds per day. When protein was supplemented, intake increased to 20 pounds per day.

The most expensive protein supplements in cost per lbs of protein are protein tubs and protein cubes. With protein tubs and cubes, you are paying extra for the convenience of feeding them. Other sources are much cheaper, but aren't as convenient. However, protein does not need to be feed every day. 

Bailey pointed beef producers to a Rules of Thumb article published by the Noble Foundation. A mid-gestation cows need 55% TDN. A late-gestation cow needs 60% TDN. Unlike protein supplementation, energy supplementation really needs to be feed once per day.

If you have an energy deficiency, protein supplements are not the answer.

Many cattle producers are missing opportunities to use commodity feeds (DDGs, etc.) to supplement nutritional needs.

By better matching the calving season to the forage resources, the calving season actually got tighter because cows were in better body condition at the start of the breeding season. 

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