October 2007
Feeding Facts

As cattle producers, each year seems to bring about new challenges we must face. Whether it is hurricanes one year, drought the next, BSE, fuel and fertilizer cost, animal ID or any other situation, cattle production continues to test our minds as well as our "britches." Another season of poor hay production brings about an old challenge: "How do I feed my cows with half as much hay as I need?" I have attended several meetings this fall with producers whose biggest question is trying to make a feeding decision based upon lower quantity and quality of hay.

Hay is considered roughage and its main function is to maintain a proper rumen environment while providing supplemental protein and energy to cattle. A cow requires at least six pounds of roughage per day to not only maintain rumen function, but to also help slow the passage rate of other feed ingredients. The passage rate of feed through the digestive system is very important to the utilization of feed. The slower the rate of passage, the higher the utilization of the feed. The cow’s requirement for this roughage must be met with either hay or another source of roughage.

This is the point where producers seem to run into problems. Roughage and a high fiber product can be two different things. Just because a product is high in fiber (soyhulls) does not mean it is roughage or will substitute pound for pound with hay. The fiber in a product such as soyhulls will be ground and will be more digestible than roughage products. Roughage products that can be used as a replacement for hay are cottonseed hulls, cotton gin trash, silage, baled corn stalks, peanut hulls, whole cottonseed and cool season forages. Let’s now look at considerations that must be taken into account as we develop a feeding program.

The first decision to be made deals with timing. You cannot wait until a day before running out of hay to make a decision on what to do. You need to look at your hay crop and determine how much hay you will be able to give to your cows on a daily basis. If you are unable to provide at least six pounds of roughage from hay, then you need to look at other roughage options.

One of the most popular options continues to be the use of winter grazing. Annual ryegrass, as well as small grains, can be a way to supplement hay. If planting winter grazing, I would recommend grazing on a time schedule. This allows cows access to graze for a couple hours a day. Also, remember concerns with grass tetney and provide a high magnesium mineral supplement.

Timing is also a key to winter grazing; hopefully you have already planned for this and have planted the crop. Winter annuals will provide superior forage quality and can be utilized by producers as a way to supplement hay.

Another decision is the analysis of your hay. While it may not be as important in years where you can keep hay in front of the cows at all times, it will be very important to know this information when rationing hay.

A cow has a requirement for certain nutrients on a daily basis. It is known that we need to daily provide a cow six pounds of dry matter from roughage. The rest of the nutritional demands must be met with supplements of some type. It is very important to know what they are getting from the hay to plan the best option for deciding on the correct supplement to use.

Also, I would suggest a nitrate test on the hay. This has been an excellent year for the development of nitrates in forages and this could be deadly in your herd. This $6 could very well be the best six dollars spent all year.

Another issue is herd management as you go into winter. A producer has several management tools at his disposal to make sure the cattle are at their most efficient level of nutrient utilization. Worm cattle for internal parasites; provide a high quality, complete mineral supplementation; cull poor producing and older cows; wean calves early and implement a creep feeding program.

All of these management tools will reduce the pressure on grass and will allow more efficiency in meeting the nutritional needs of your cattle.

We are now to the decision of selecting a supplement that will best meet the additional nutrient needs of the cattle. Several products are available for consideration. The most popular options continue to be commodity feeding, complete feeds and supplement tubs. When choosing one of these options, first look at products that help make the most efficient use of what hay and forage is available. Research has shown supplement tubs have the ability to increase forage utilization and help cows consume lower quality grasses that may be in pastures at this time. Crystalyx® Supplement Tubs and Sweetlix® Supplement Tubs offer a variety of products to meet the producer’s unique situation and are available at your local Quality Co-op. Both of these supplements will provide energy, protein, minerals and vitamins as well as helping the cow utilize forage at a higher rate. The use of these two products will help your hay and grass go further.

Complete feeds are another option to consider. This year, look at complete feeds containing ingredients that will provide additional roughage. We offer several feeds that contain cottonseed hulls and other digestible fiber sources to help the cow be more efficient. As the name implies, a complete feed is designed to provide all the additional protein, energy, minerals and vitamins required. Complete feeds we offer that contain cottonseed hulls and digestible fiber are T.P. Cattle Ration, Bull & Steer, Performance Beef, Alabama Cattle Ration, 13% with Bovatec, AFC Creep Feed, Preconditioning Pellets and AFC Range Cubes.

Another option some will consider is the purchasing of ingredients as a supplement. Remember that because certain by-products are cheap in terms of dollars, it does not mean that they are necessarily a good value. An example for this year would be corn. While corn is at a low cost, the fact it reduces fiber utilization and digestion would be a reason to not select it as a supplement. Also soyhulls, while a very popular choice, can get to a point that they are to expensive. When soyhulls get to be $115 and higher, complete feeds will price in and provide a higher quality product to meet the daily needs of your cattle. Ingredients available this fall to be considered will be soyhulls, cottonseed, corn gluten, distiller grains, wheat products and rice products. Each of these ingredients is available, but comes with different feeding considerations before implementing them into your operation.

As you make your decisions this fall, keep in mind nutritional disorders that need to be taken into account. Grass tetney, nitrate poisoning, Milk Fever in spring-calving cows and bloat on high ingredient rations must all be considered when putting together a complete program. When considering these disorders, make management decisions to reduce their incidences. Just one saved cow will make up the additional cost associated with preventing these problems.

As always, I am available at any time to assist in this decision making process. I look forward to visiting with some of you at upcoming producer meetings as well as talking to you by phone or e-mail. I can be reached at 256-947-7886 or
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Your local Co-op is always readily available to assist you in any manner possible.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.