The 4th Annual Grazing Livestock Nutrition Conference was held in Estes Park, CO, July 9-10. This conference is designed to cover various aspects of the science behind the nutrition of grazing animals. The first such conference was held in Jackson Hole, WY, in 1987. This year’s program was dedicated to Dr. D.C. Clanton, Professor Emeritus, University of Nebraska; Dr. J.E. Wallace, Professor Emeritus, New Mexico State University; and Dr. F. Hinds, Professor Emeritus, University of Wyoming. These individuals were on the planning committee for the first meeting.
The topic assigned to me for the conference was “Strategic Supplementation.” Along with my co-author, Rachel Endecott from Montana State University, I developed a paper and presentation for the conference. The following summarizes our thoughts from the presentation.
If you look up the word “strategic” in the dictionary, you will note the following definitions:
1a: of, relating to, or marked by strategy; 2a: necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct, or completion of a strategic plan; c: of great importance within an integrated whole or to a planned effect.
Clearly, if we are going to practice strategic supplementation, we need to have a plan or strategy to accomplish it successfully. We need to have thought about it, planned it, and then executed that plan.
One of the things I emphasized in my presentation is the need to evaluate the supplementation strategy in the light of economics and biology. We may have a nutrient deficiency, but it may not be economical to provide the nutrients necessary to meet that deficiency, especially during certain times of the production calendar. In other words, it’s okay for cows to lose weight and condition at times, and in fact, it may be more economical for them to do so temporarily.
For supplementation to be strategic, we need to know and understand several things related to the cow, the forage, the supplement, and the environment. These include cow nutrient requirements, forage quality, forage intake, other ranch management strategies (weaning date, calving date, etc.), as well as cost and economic factors. Since things like weaning strategy interact with supplementation, it is important to take those factors into account. Failure to do so may result in a failed supplementation program and/or higher costs. Table 1 shows the interaction between weaning date and supplementation strategy which was reported by Dr. Short at the Fort Keogh Laboratory in Miles City, MT, in 1990. It clearly demonstrates that supplementation strategy needs to take into account weaning time.
One important thing to remember from economics class is the principle of “diminishing returns.” The basic theory is that every additional unit of input will result in slightly lower incremental levels of output. This is also true for a supplementation program. Each additional unit of supplement will not offer the same production response as the first unit e.g. the second pound of supplement is not going to get you the same response as the first pound.
Remember also that correcting nutrient imbalances is not the only strategic use of supplementation. Recent data from the University of Nebraska, North Dakota State University, and the University of Wyoming indicate that supplementation may also have important effects on the developing fetus; obviously, this plays a critical role in ranch economics. Other strategic uses for supplementation on the ranch include improved grazing distribution; protecting environmentally sensitive areas (e.g. streams) by attracting animals to different areas of the pasture; as well as manipulating wildlife production, recreation value, or other ranch enterprises. As pressure from environmental interests continues to escalate, ranch managers in this part of the country need to become increasingly aware of the role supplements may play in addressing these areas as well.
As you design your fall and winter supplementation programs, remember to think strategically. It pays big dividends.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News