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Cowbytes Gets An Update

The fourth update of Alberta Agriculture’s popular ration balancing and feed management program, CowBytes (version 5), was on track to be released in early December.

More than 2,500 ranchers, extension personnel, and feed company representatives in Canada, the U.S. and abroad have purchased the program since it was first released in 1989, while numerous colleges and universities in North America have access to a network-based version for classroom studies.

Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture, and Bryan Doig, provincial feeds specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, cochaired the update project. It involved people with expertise in ruminant nutrition and cattle feeding from provincial and federal agriculture departments in all four western provinces. Likewise, producers, extension staff and feed company representatives from across the West have been involved in the pre-release testing to make sure all components of the updated program worked as expected.

“Without this total team effort, the project would have taken much longer,” Yaremcio says. It got underway two years ago when Saskatchewan Agriculture came up with funding to review and improve the mechanics of the program to make it user friendly with the latest Windows 7 and Vista computer operating systems. Alberta Agriculture provided assistance to review and revise the formulas and improve the help section of the program. The last CowBytes update was in 2003.

“By sharing the workload and sharing ideas we have a better end product,” Doig says. “There aren’t any critical changes in the equations, but we have changed the look and feel of the program. Producers with Mac computers have been able to run Cow-Bytes using a software program called CrossOver downloaded for a fee from, he adds.

The nutrient requirements within the program are based on the National Research Council (2000) guidelines for five types of beef animals: pregnant and lactating cows, growing feeders and replacements, bred heifers, herd bulls and feedlot animals. The help component of the program provides technical information on various aspects of animal nutrition and ration formulation.

“CowBytes is flexible enough to allow users to customize feed tables, adjust requirements for different weather conditions, and enter specififeed test results and commercial feed tag information so that the ration represents what feeds are available on the farm,” Yaremcio explains. When formulating rations at the kitchen table or working with a feed salesman or nutritionist, CowBytes allows the user the flexibility to use standard commercial supplements and minerals or, if necessary, a custom formula can be developed. Don’t overlook the possibility of grain as a supplement, particularly if you are in an area where there is a lot of high-moisture barley in the bins.

Formulating your own rations and knowing all of your options is of great value when monitoring and managing your feeding costs and inventories. Eight different reports can be generated — anything from a quick ration report, to feed mixes, batch scale sheets, and feed-use summaries. The feed summary report indicates how much feed you will need based on the feeding period and the number of head. Once the final amounts of supplement and other feeds have been calculated, a shopping list can be made and you could have feed companies tender on it.

Some of the new features or modifications incorporated into the 2010 version include:

In the summary report, each type of feed is kept separate in one category regardless of the name you give it. In the previous version, if you changed the name of a feed, for example identifying it by the place of purchase rather than by the type of feed, there were problems compiling the final feed inventory.

The average nutrient values for new feedstuffs such as distillers grains, barley malt sprouts and other byproduct feeds that weren’t available seven years ago, have been added.

Some fields have been condensed. For example, the animal description and environment description are on the same page for easy referencing.

The program is very sensitive to hair coat and wind speed conditions, both of which have a significant impact on average daily gain and energy requirements. Rather than having to enter the depth of hair coat, users only have to punch in whether it’s a summer or a winter hair coat.

The cost-of-gain calculation now includes a yardage component.

A mathematical calculator has been added for convenience, which will be particularly useful when using the program on mobile devices away from your office.

The manual and help section on the software have been fleshed out in greater detail with a wealth of information about cattle nutrition from many contributors and to walk firsttime users step-by-step through the keystrokes and screens.

The timing for the release couldn’t have been better, Yaremcio says. “Ration balancing will be especially important this year because we have so much weather-damaged hay. So far, feed test results in Alberta are indicating that the protein content is generally lower and the neutral detergent fibre (NDF) levels are generally higher than normal.”

When the NDF gets up into that 65 to 70 per cent range, as it appears to be this year, it limits feed intake because the forage takes longer to digest in the rumen and to pass through the digestive tract. That could lead to reduced daily feed intake and lower average daily gains — or even weight loss in cold conditions — in backgrounding calves and cows as they approach calving.

For example, a 1,400-pound cow should consume between 34 to 37 pounds of hay per day as-fed. When the NDF is 67 per cent (rather than the normal 45 to 50 per cent), expected consumption drops to 25 to 27 pounds per day because of the physical limitations. That’s a dramatic reduction in energy intake, indicating that you would need grain or a supplement that is high in energy and low in fibre content to meet the energy requirements.

The same applies for protein, Yaremcio adds. As feed consumption drops, total protein consumed is reduced, limiting repopulation of the rumen microbes necessary to digest the fibre. As microbe numbers decrease, fibre digestion rates are further reduced. It’s a downward spiral that compounds itself very quickly.

For information about CowBytes or to obtain a program, call 1-800-292-5697 (from anywhere in Canada), or go to


Formulating your own rations and knowing all of your options is of great value when monitoring and managing your feeding costs and inventories

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