Feed for Thought

Feed For Thought
Ashley Warren, Ruminant Production Specialist

WEATHER you believe it or not, the numbers matter.

As Iowans, we have a habit of saying, “It wouldn’t feel so cold if it weren’t for the wind.” This couldn’t have been truer during last month’s cold snap for all of us, and our livestock too. Once it is cold outside it’s hard for us humans to tell the difference between 32° and 15°, but your cows can!

During the winter months and heading into breeding season, even the smallest changes in your herd’s environment can impact nutritional requirements for cattle. Shorting our herd nutritionally during these critical times of stress can have a significant domino effect on performance for months to come, even once temperatures rise again. What can we do about it? Is the feed we’re giving them already enough?

To answer these questions we have to consider several factors.

Q. What are the goals of our operation?

A. The operations I work with have different goals throughout the year, dependent on when calves are to be sold, what is the target market, and of course cash flow.

Q. What stage of production are our cows in?

A. This single factor has the greatest impact on a cow’s nutritional requirements. What trimester are the spring breds in? Do we have any fall breds that are currently lactating? Do we have a high number of first-calf and second-calf heifers compared to mature cows?

Q. What is the current body condition score of our cows?

A. With the answer to the question above, we can determine what we are up against in terms of maintenance energy. We all know it is hard to put weight on during these colder months due to higher maintenance requirements. We must consider a full-circle, all-seasons program to help mitigate these winter needs on a year-round basis.

Q. What is the farm’s current forage supply?

A. As a producer-centered group, we at Two Rivers always look at on-farm resources first. It is ideal to have a nutritional analysis done in order to know exactly what nutritional needs are being met and where we need to supplement.

Q. What are our other restrictions (labor, etc)?

A. Let’s face it, we all have restrictions and other things that consume our time; whether it is an off-the-farm job, multiple pastures and groups to check, and not to mention any family activities. Certain programs lend themselves well to assist with easing some of these restrictions, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit for you.

Let’s Talk Minerals: By The Type

The needs of livestock are not merely measured in TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients) and protein available to them. Mineral nutrition is also equally important because cattle perform better and more efficiently utilize feed when minerals are balanced in the diet. This is vital to reproductive efficiency, milk production, and overall herd health—all of which have a crucial and significant impact on your bottom line. There are ten microminerals required by beef cattle. Three of these (copper, zinc, and selenium) are likely to be deficient in forages. Many trace mineral deficiencies are caused by “antagonists”. These tie up the minerals and reduce absorption, which is the cow’s ability to use them nutritionally. Therefore, special attention is required to ensure minerals are provided in required and balanced amounts.

Copper: Most common deficiency in grazing cattle. Impacts fertility, reproduction, and the immune system.

Zinc: Cattle have a limited ability to store zinc, so supplementation is always necessary. Zinc absorption is closely tied to copper absorption; the ratio should be three Zn to one Cu. Impacts immunity, male reproduction, skin, and hoof health.

Selenium: Deficiency causes white muscle disease (similar to muscular dystrophy) in newborn calves. Selenium deficiency can also cause calves to be weak at birth and increase their susceptibility to diseases like scours. Increased rates of retained placentas and poor reproductive performance are often observed in cows with selenium deficiencies.

A free choice option of a Wind & Rain cooked tub and/or weatherized loose mineral is ideal to ensure needs are met and vital systems continue to operate at their optimum level.

Let’s Talk Minerals: By The Numbers

Let’s say a good mineral program costs $26.85 per bag ($1,074 per ton). For some that may seem expensive, but a good mineral program should be looked at as an investment and not an expense.

At a 4 ounce, or 0.25 pound, per day intake, mineral only costs $0.134 per day.
$1,074 per ton ÷ 2,000 pounds = $0.5370 per pound
$0.5370 per pound × 0.25 [4 ounces = 0.25 pounds] = $0.134 per day

The cost per year would be $48.91.
$0.134 per day × 365 = $48.91 per year

Let’s say the cow’s nutritional needs are not being met because she is not consuming a quality mineral source, and doesn’t conceive on her first cycle coming back into heat.

Assume the price of a 600-pound feeder calf is worth $1.60 per pound
If a calf weighs 80 pounds at birth, it needs to gain 2.5 pounds per day to reach 600 pounds at weaning (205 days of age)
**Remember that most operations wean all calves in one day

If a calf is born just one cycle (21 days) later, a producer loses 52.5 pounds of weaning weight
21 days × 2.5 pounds per day = 52.5 pounds

At $1.60 per pound, that is $84.00 per head you can miss out on, or $35.46 MORE than the cost of a “good” mineral program for the entire year.
$1.60 per pound × 52.5 pounds = $84.00 LOST

$84.00 per head (added WW) – $48.91 yearly mineral cost per cow = $35.46 profit

Let us run the numbers for you! At Two Rivers, we are here for you when you need us—to assist with nutritional programs, on-farm consulting, and forage- and feed-analysis. Give Ashley a call at 641-204-2526 to talk about your operations’ needs and goals as we move forward together in 2021!

Feed for Thought