Consider adding protein supplement this winter
Protein Supplementation Recommendations from NDSU
Purposes of protein supplementation:
1. To provide a nutrient source for the rumen microorganims.
2. To provide nutrients for the cow.
Many ranchers in the region utilize dormant forages, crop residues, or other low quality forages for a portion of their forage resources for winter grazing. If you are planning to utilize these kinds of forages in your winter grazing plans, protein supplementation may be necessary to maintain beef cow productivity, ensure healthy calves at calving time, and ensure the cows return to estrous quickly following calving.
Dormant forages, crop residues, and other low quality forages are typically low in protein and vitamin A, as well as minerals such as phosphorus. A variety of factors including cow condition, cow nutrient requirements (calving date, milk production, cow size), previous forage and pasture management, and weather will determine when and if protein supplementation is required. There are many different products available for use as protein supplements. Alfalfa hay, oilseeds and oilseed meals, grain processing coproducts such as dried distillers grains plus solubles, and a myriad of commercial products can all be used as supplements. The optimal choice for your operation depends on cost, availability, pasture accessibility, and other factors.
Understanding the nutrient content of your basal forages is a key in making effective and profitable supplementation decisions. Extension personnel and feed company nutritionists have access to diet quality data for dormant native range, grazed crop residues, and other forages in your area. They can help you determine when to start supplementation. Apply knowledge of diet quality, intake, and cow requirements to fine tune protein supplementation programs and improve overall returns by focusing on timely supplementation with the right products.
The rumen bacteria need rumen degradable protein to efficiently ferment the fiber in dormant forages and provide the cow with energy, protein, and other nutrients. Feedstuffs such as alfalfa hay, oilseed meals, and grain processing coproducts contain relatively high proportions of rumen degradable protein. Rumen degradable protein is what is utilized by the rumen microorganisms. For example, in the case of soybean meal, about 70 percent of the crude protein is rumen degradable protein. This protein is available to the rumen microorganisms. The remaining 30 percent will pass through the rumen and be digested by the animal. The undegradable portion is still effective as a protein supplement for low quality forages because the cow is able to digest the remaining protein, break down the amino acids, and recycle nitrogen to the rumen in the form of urea.
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Research data from across the country indicate that protein supplements don’t need to be fed daily. In fact, several studies indicate similar animal performance whether supplements are offered daily or as infrequently as weekly. One of the reasons for this is the ability of the cow to recycle urea to the rumen. There are considerable fuel and labor savings in providing protein supplements on an every other day or every third day feeding program. These alternate day or every third day supplementation programs should definitely be considered in an effort to reduce costs.
Many commercial self-fed products (cooked molasses blocks, self-fed liquids, salt limited supplements, and others) are available which can also be used to cut down on supplement delivery costs. These self-fed products are particularly useful in situations where pastures are a long distance from the ranch or farm headquarters and daily supplementation with conventional supplements is cost prohibitive. Self-fed products can also be used to draw cattle into areas where terrain or other limitations might otherwise reduce forage utilization.
To make informed decisions regarding protein supplements, it’s important to understand your basal forage nutrient composition, cow requirements, and the economics of protein supplements before initiating a supplementation program. Consult with Extension personnel or nutritionists for help in making an informed and cost effective protein supplementation decision.
Greg Lardy is the head of the NDSU Department of Animal Science
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