Think about it: protein supplementation
October 28, 2015
It is important to have a source of forage for winter grazing in this part of the country. If you are planning to utilize dormant forages, crop residues, and other low quality forages in your winter grazing plans, protein supplementation may be necessary to maintain beef cow productivity, ensure healthy newborn calves, and ensure cows return to estrous quickly following calving. The need for protein supplementation varies with a variety of factors, including forage quality and nutrient requirements.
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, oilseed meal, grain processing coproducts such as dried distillers grains plus solubles, and a myriad of commercial products can all be used very effectively as supplements. The optimal choice for your operation depends on cost, availability, pasture accessibility, convenience, and other factors.
The purposes of protein supplementation are to provide a nutrient source for the rumen microorganisms and nutrients for the cow. 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. By providing this type of protein, we allow the bacteria and other microorganisms in the rumen to make the most out of the forage resources. Most 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 distillers dried grains, about 60 percent of the crude protein is rumen undegradable or escape protein. This means 40 percent of it is available to the rumen microorganisms. However, research indicates that it still works well 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.
Understanding the nutrient content of your basal forages is 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. Improve overall returns by focusing on timely supplementation with the right products. Apply knowledge of diet quality, intake, and cow requirements to fine tune protein supplementation programs. Without some knowledge of the nutrient content of the basal forage, it is impossible to make an informed decision regarding protein supplementation.
Research data from across the country indicate that protein supplements don't need to be fed daily. In fact, many 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, every third day, or weekly feeding program.
Many commercial self-fed products (cooked molasses blocks, self-fed liquids, salt limited supplements, and others) are available which can 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 supplementation with conventional products may be cost prohibitive. Self-fed products can also be used to draw cattle into areas where terrain or other limitations might otherwise reduce forage utilization.
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In summary, be sure to understand your basal forage nutrient composition and cow requirements. Also consider the type of supplement you want to feed (hay, oilseed meal, cake, self-fed products, etc.) in your decision-making process. Each year is different; and you may have differences between groups of cows on the same ranch that lead you to slightly different supplementation programs. Consult your local extension personnel or nutritionist for help in making an informed and cost effective protein supplementation decision.