While supplements can be an appropriate accompaniment to livestock’s diet year-round, many producer’s thoughts tend to turn to supplementation in the winter.

“Supplements are important for livestock when there is a nutrient deficiency or imbalance of nutrients that prevents livestock from reaching their health and production potential,” Dr. Shane Gadberry, livestock nutrition specialist with the University of Arkansas Extension, explained. “For example, supplemental protein may be provided when available protein doesn’t meet the livestock’s dietary requirement for protein (correcting a deficiency) or supplemental calcium offered to bring the calcium to phosphorus ratio to a 2:1 ratio (correcting an imbalance).”

Livestock require different types of nutrients in their diet and it is important to understand which nutrients are adequate, excessive or deficient during different seasons of the year for different classes of livestock and their stages of production, he added.

Andy McCorkill, livestock field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said proper supplantation is critical. 

“Our livestock’s nutritional requirements are broken into several categories, water, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals,” he said. “Water, energy and protein make up the largest components of nutritional needs. Although needed in smaller quantities, vitamins and minerals play key roles in many biological functions within the body, as well as bone structure. To put it simply, we have to take care of our animals before they take care of us. All of the pieces of the nutritional puzzle have to align to maintain reproductive efficiency within a breeding herd and to optimize growth on growing stock destined for slaughter.”

If a producer is running a multispecies operation, it can be tempting to try and find one supplement that all animals can consume, partially for convenience and partially because trying to find the right ratio of vitamins and minerals for each herd or flock can be daunting, but it is important to remember that different species have different needs. 

“When it comes to supplementation, there usually isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution,” Gadberry explained. “Ruminants can be fed ingredients like raw soybeans and cotton byproducts that would be a problem for pigs and chickens because of differences in their digestive systems. But even when you take two species that have similar digestive systems, like sheep and cattle, a supplement designed for cattle may contain a toxic level of copper if fed to sheep.” 

McCorkill said there is more to supplementing than just feeding different types to different animals. 

“Besides the obvious toxicity issues that can pop up with cross species use, not every animal has the same needs all the time,” he said. “Breeding stock’s nutrient requirements vary considerably based mostly upon the stage within the production cycle they fall, but also due to environmental factors, such as precipitation, temperature and soil conditions.”

While supplementation needs do need to be met year-round, both Gadberry and McCorkill noted magnesium is an often needed mineral during the winter months. 

“Changing to a high magnesium mineral during winter may be needed for cows that will be calving on lush pasture in the spring, giving them time to adjust to the mineral ahead of when they will need it in the spring. High-quality annual ryegrass and small grain hay or baleage can be very high in potassium and create a condition called winter tetany. So, switching to a high magnesium mineral may be needed sooner with this type of winter forage,” Dr. Gadberry said. 

McCorkill explained salt and water, while necessary in their own right, can help animals make good use of supplemented magnesium in the winter. 

“Salt is another component that should be considered,” he said. “Adequate amounts of salt will improve magnesium absorption and reduce the likelihood of tetany issues. Keeping plentiful water available is important to ensure salt passes through the body as it should.”


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