David P. Price is a consulting nutritionist specializing in feedlot and range cattle
The last couple of months we have been discussing supplementation on pasture. For the most part that means commercial supplements. The most common physical forms are cubes, blocks and molasses tubs.
Cubes provide a delivery form that offers structural integrity and can be metered out on the ground without the need for feeding facilities. They are easy to store, do not “bridge” in bulk tanks and meter out evenly from “cake” feeders.
Blocks also offer a form that negates the need for investment in feeding infrastructure, and offer the additional advantage of allowing us to minimize trips to the pasture. The disadvantage to blocks is excess salt, which is commonly required to control intake. This salt typically has no detrimental effect on the cattle, but can affect pastures as cattle excrete the excess sodium (particularly around watering sites).
Cubes need not contain excess salt (some do), since we can physically control intake by spreading them out to keep dominant animals from eating a disproportionate share. Solidified molasses tubs offer the convenience of blocks without the salt, but are inordinately expensive.
A lower-cost alternative to all three supplement forms is byproducts. What we give up is convenience. In order to effectively use byproducts we must either have bulk bins or a covered shed and front-end loader. We also need a feed delivery truck or wagon, as well as portable feed bunks. Since most byproducts are exceedingly palatable, bunk space per head must be much greater than for feedlot use, but even with liberal bunk space, timid animals may get pushed off (cows have the most serious social patterning of all cattle types).
Without a doubt, byproducts demand a much higher level of management, but can often reduce supplementation costs from a third to as much as half the cost of commercial supplements. For example, dried distiller’s grains (DDG) typically run about 30 per cent crude protein, 0.5-0.9 per cent phosphorous, and 10 per cent fat. This would compare favorably with most commercial supplements. However, it is important to realize the digestibility of protein in DDG will be somewhat lower than blocks or cubes containing soybean or canola meal (on a protein equivalency basis). Due to the fat (oil) content, corn based DDG will usually contain more energy than commercial supplements. Normally protein is what we look for in range supplements, but the energy in DDG takes on added significance for developing replacement heifers.
The commodities market has been so volatile it is difficult to discuss prices, but on a protein equivalency basis DDG will usually be about 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than commercial cubes, 50 to 60 per cent cheaper than blocks, and 70 per cent or more cheaper than molasses tubs. Obviously, cost savings is partially offset by feeding equipment requirements, and therefore it will take a large operation to be able to justify the costs. For a large cow-calf operation of 800 head or more, the cost savings can be enough to buy a new pickup each year. More, if you develop heifers as they require extra energy.
But again, management is key. We can achieve these savings only with a commitment to detail. DDG (and corn gluten) contain excessive amounts of sulphur, which can be detrimental on ranches with a molybdenum problem, or (obviously) already have high sulphur in the grass or water. But even on ranches without a sulphur problem, if cows are allowed to over-consume, the sulphur in the DDG or gluten can be toxic by itself.
Wheat midds is a byproduct that does not contain excess sulphur, and would be a candidate for ranches with sulphur or molybdenum problems. On average, wheat midds contain about the same amount of phosphorus, but only about half as much protein and energy as DDG.
It is important to realize a separate free-choice mineral will be required for almost all byproducts, since most will not contain trace minerals or more important, vitamin A. In the case of products such as DDG, corn gluten or wheat midds, the mineral will have to be custom made. Why? Because all three of these byproducts are high in phosphorous, the primary ingredient in most commercial minerals. This is not really a problem, since phosphorous is a costly ingredient. During the commodity price peak this summer, dicalcium phosphate was pushing US$1,000/ton. Since most range minerals aretypically20to35percent dicalP, that’saconsiderable saving.
One could feed commercial mineral (make sure it has added Vit. A) as long as females are the only animals. Long term excesses of phosphorus in steers can lead to urinary calculi.
If all this seems complicated, it is actually somewhat rudimentary nutrition. It does, however, require much more sophistication than just buying blocks or cubes from a salesman or feed store.