Target the Use of Beef Cattle Supplements

Published on Fri, 07/27/2018 - 9:41am

 Target the Use of Beef Cattle Supplements

 By Bruce Derksen for American Cattlemen

 Livestock producers understand that health plays a major role in the overall value of cattle.  Everything from sale dollars, milk production, reproduction efficiency to carcass quality is impacted by diet and nutrition and although producers work tirelessly to make the best possible use of the forages and grains they grow, when it comes to managing them in the production of beef cattle, sometimes more is called for.  Just as people may have need of vitamins and different types of supplements, at times livestock also require a little extra.

When choosing what types of supplements may or may not be needed, consider the livestock objectives, availability of feedstocks and costs.  Objectives will vary from assisting a nursing calf to reach weaning age in a healthy productive state, allowing a backgrounding grass steer or potential replacement heifer to grow in frame size through a summer season, to maintaining cow conditioning and cost effectively finishing a feedlot animal delivering a top quality carcass.  Weather and growing conditions dictating feed source availability will affect supplement choices along with the costs associated from only the bare necessities to attempts at gathering data for future endeavors through trial conditions.
An important first step is to have all feed sources tested to determine the nutritional values and qualities.  Having this knowledge allows a producer to deliver the proper feed at the right time to curb the arrival of future health issues, just as lack of feed quality data prevents any practical means of determining the type, amount or delivery method that would produce the highest productivity.
The primary types of feed supplements can be loosely divided into protein, energy and mineral vitamin additives.  
Protein supplements can be built into rations in a variety of ways including high quality forage, mash pellets, range cubes, protein blocks and liquid tub supplements.  Keep in mind that protein requirements will vary depending on age, frame size and expected weight gains and performance.  Young growing cattle require relatively large amounts of crude protein in their diet to deliver proper muscle growth while older finishing animals require less amounts of crude proteins and higher energy supplements.  Many protein supplements offer the addition of non- protein nitrogen or NPN sources such as urea as a cost effective way to replace a portion of the more expensive plant proteins.  Although financially appealing and sensible for specific categories of cattle, care must be taken in the implementation of these NPN sources as they can be harmful if not dispensed properly.  Other supplements include ionophore feed additives such as Rumensin and Bovatec that alter rumen fermentation patterns to boost body weight gain and feed efficiency, along with reducing the risk of coccidiosis, bloat, liver abscesses and acidosis.
Energy supplements may also be required by both cattle on pasture or in feedlots.  If pasture land and forages are limited in energy nutrients, a supplement such as cereal or distiller grains, soybean hulls, sugar-beet pulp or fats can deliver energy nutrients and increase the supplemental crude protein.  For finishing cattle in the feedlot, generally the older and heavier the cattle, the less the need for proteins and the higher the energy requirements.
Minerals and vitamins are another group of feed supplements that should be added depending on pasture or dryland conditions.  Minerals are usually divided into macro minerals including calcium, chlorine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur and micro or trace minerals including chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc.  Again, it is imperative to have your feed tested to determine the types and amounts of minerals and vitamins to offer your herds.
It is important to have a goal or objective when it comes to feeding beef supplements to your herd.  The decision to purchase a given supplement should be based on an evaluation of its contribution to meeting all essential nutrients, not just protein.  Work with a nutritionist to develop a proper diet and feed supplement plan that will help you meet all your specific herd objectives.  The ideal supplement is one that will best fit these management goals, is economical plus easy to handle and deliver to your cattle.  In addition, a successful supplementation program should take advantage of the operation’s available resources, with major emphasis on long-term management and economics.