For anyone feeding hay this winter, every bale is a reminder of the impact last summer’s weather had on forage quality.

With that in mind, K-State cow-calf nutritionist K.C. Olson visited with cattlemen recently in Parsons, Kansas about supplementing poor forage to make a good diet.

“One of the issues in this area is that you are needing the biggest nutrient requirement at the poorest forage cycle of the year,” he explained.

Olson told producers cattlemen typically spend as much as $600 a year per cow.

“Most of that money is spent right after New Year’s Day,” he said.

Although there are systems that can cut cost, including those with cool season grasses and stockpiled fescue, the challenge is the same.

“Your grass just can’t get it done during this time of year, making supplementation important.”

Supplementation goals vary from animal to animal and ranch to ranch but the one constant is that producers need to make maximum use of on-range resources, according to Olson.

“To be able to supplement the cow correctly, the idea is to take the already available low-quality roughage source and add something to it to make a decent diet,” he explained.

Supplementation, according to the nutritionist, is more than just finding out what is needed and putting it in.

“Supplements correct balances in the rumen. All microorganisms must work together right,” he explained. “In many cases, the poorer the forage quality, the better the response we get by supplementing.”

When considering supplementation, Olson told producers they must identify the nutrient that serves as the barrier to improving performance.

Some of the possible nutrients that would fit in this category include:

•Protein-ruminal-degradable (RDP) or ruminally-undegradable (RUP)

•Energy-starch, fiber and fat

•Minerals and vitamins

“In most cases you can scratch minerals and vitamins off the list and put your cross hairs on protein and energy,” he said. “Protein and energy are easy to see if shortages occur because cows quit eating and get skinny.”

So, the question is whether to feed a little or a lot of protein.

“I always have guys telling me their cows are getting skinny and won’t rebreed so they started feeding them corn and then they look worse,” Olson said.

The problem is that by adding corn to the diet, the cows are eating less forage and more corn, the nutritionist said.

“This allows the total energy yield from the diet to stay the same but the cost of feeding went up because they were eating more corn,” he explained. “The rumen doesn’t do well on just starch and forage fiber, they don’t get along.”

However, by adding the right kind and amount of supplement to the diet, forage intake can be increased by 150 to 300 percent. The key is, in order to get this kind of response, the supplement needs to be ruminal degradable protein.

“In most cases, a protein that works with the rumen is what the first limiting nutrient is. If we get that part right then we can also improve forage intake,” Olson said.

RDP supplementation of low quality diets can improve forage intake, improve forage digestion and improve the protein supply. At the same time, the host animal benefits from improved protein status, improved energy status and increased performance.

After finding out what is deficient in the diet, the next obstacle is deciding how to get it to the livestock.

“There are a couple different ways to deliver supplements, self-fed and hand-fed,” Olson explained.

According to him, there are some definite delivery issues to consider:

•Unit feed cost for dry matter, energy and protein.

“Feed costs, expressed per unit of nutrient purchased, vary widely so compare accordingly,” he said.

•Protein content—non-protein nitrogen and natural protein.

•Labor cost and time requirement.

“Labor and time savings associated with self-fed supplements must be critically compared with increased feed and overhead costs,” Olson explained.

•Size constraints.

•Animal performance—average, uniformity.

High average performance should be given equal status with uniformity of performance, he noted.

Self-fed supplements to hand-fed supplements each have their place, Olson believes.

“Self-fed rations can offer everything the manufacturer says they will, however, the results are based on group averages,” he said. “Individual deviations from the average are not considered.”

Some of those deviations include, uncontrolled access, social interactions, level of experience, sub-optimal competition and lack of a management presence.

When comparing to self-fed supplemental delivery systems there is a perceived requirement for additional labor, according to the specialist.

However, he told producers that daily hand-feeding is unnecessary.

“Weekly feed intake can be prorated over two, three or four days per week depending on supplement type making the performance equivalent to daily feedings,” he explained. “When using self-fed supplements this way, the labor requirement becomes comparable to self-fed supplement delivery.”

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