Almost every farmer or rancher has encountered a situation where the body condition of their livestock begins to decline. This situation can be caused by several different factors – drought, poor quality forage, stress, or a tough winter, to name a few. When these or other circumstances arise, it can be assumed that this is a good time to implement a supplement program for your cattle. “Supplement implies you do not feel the ration being provided to an animal is sufficient to allow it to perform up to your expectations. Thus, you’ll need to add an ingredient or two in order to meet the nutritional needs of the animal,” said Eldon Cole, livestock specialist at the University of Missouri Extension. The first step in putting a supplement program into play is to evaluate the current nutrition being provided to the animal, followed by selecting the proper supplement and finally, making the supplement available to your herd.
Evaluate: To make the most of a supplement program, you first need to know your cattle, and know your feed. Observation can often be the first clue to whether or not your herd needs supplementing. If you notice a drop in weight, loss of coat or hair sheen, and dull eyes, it’s time to take action. The next step needs to be to conduct a forage analysis with the help of your local extension. Eldon Cole noted that when it comes to forage, cattle producers need to “test don’t guess.” This test can help you determine what nutrients your cows are lacking.
Select: “A supplement may be high-quality pasture such as wheat, rye or ryegrass, alfalfa hay, by-product feeds such as corn gluten feed, soybean hulls, dried distillers grain, corn or any number of commercially prepared meals, cubes, blocks, barrels, tubs, liquid feeds and the list goes on,” Eldon Cole said. “When shopping for supplements, seriously look only at what the cost is on a dry matter basis for the nutrients your cattle are short of. Protein is usually less of a worry than energy, calories or total digestible nutrients (TDN).”
Cattle producers also need to consider their performance goals when choosing supplement. Are you after better milk production, or higher weaning weights? Do you want better utilization of any available forage? Shea Barber, regional sales manager for SmartLic Supplements in South Dakota and Feed in a Drum Supplements in Oklahoma, said, “Supplements enhance the digestibility of poor-quality forage.” He also notes that “supplementation improves rumen function, provides more energy through dry matter intake, and leads to better semen quality.”
Once you determine your production goals, you can move on to evaluating the cost of supplements that will help you achieve them. “A good, grass-legume forage system should reduce forage supplement needs and save money,” noted Eldon Cole.
Feed: After selecting the proper supplement for your cattle herd needs and desired performance goals, the final step in your program is to get it into your cow’s diets. There are a few things to consider to make sure you are supplementing as efficiently as possible; if you have selected a powdered or granulated supplement, such as a dry mineral mix, you will want to keep it covered in the pasture – rain and snow can cause this form of supplement to clump and harden. Supplement blocks and hard cooked tubs like those offered by Missouri Livestock and Feed in a Drum will hold up to the weather more consistently. Liquid feed supplements are a convenient form of supplement, but make sure your tub is sitting on a level area to avoid excess spillage.
There is a lot of information to consider when supplementing, but observing your cattle, analyzing your forage, and keeping good records of cost and performance can keep you on the right track.