October 2006
Feeding Facts

As cattle producers, each year seems to bring about new challenges that we must face. Whether it be hurricanes one year and drought the next, BSE, fuel and fertilizer cost, animal I.D. or any other situation, cattle production continues to test our minds as well as our “britches.”

A new season brings about an old challenge and that is “How do I feed my cows when I only have half as much hay as I need?” I have attended several meetings this summer and fall with producers whose biggest question is making a feeding decision based upon lower available 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 6 pounds of roughage per day to not only maintain rumen function, but also help slow down passage rate of other feed ingredients. The passage rate of feed through the digestive system is very important with the utilization of this feed, the slower the rate of passage - the higher the utilization of 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 (such as soyhulls) this does not mean that this product 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 to hay will be cottonseed hulls, cotton gin trash, silage, bailed corn stalks, peanut hulls, whole cottonseed, and cool season forages.

Lets now look at considerations that must be taken into account as we develop a feeding program. The first decision that must be made is timing. You cannot wait until a day before you run out of hay to make a decision on what you will 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 6 pounds of roughage from hay, then you need to look at the other roughage options that we discussed.

One of the most popular options continues to be the use of winter grazing. Annual rye grass, as well as small grains, can be used as a way to supplement hay. If planting winter grazing, I would recommend that you graze on a time schedule, allowing cows access to the graze for a couple hours a day. Also remember concerns with grass tetney and provide a high magnesium mineral supplement to these cows. Timing is also the 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 that should be made is analysis of your hay. While it may not be as important in a year were you can keep hay in front of them at all times, it will be very important to know this information in a year that you ration hay. A cow has a requirement for certain nutrients on a daily basis. We know that we will get 6 pounds of dry matter in them a day from roughage. The rest of the nutritional demands for that animal must be met with supplements of some type. It is very important to know what they are getting from the hay so you can plan your best option for deciding on the supplement you will use.

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

Another issue is management of your herd as you go into winter. A producer has several management tools at his disposal to make sure that cattle are at the most efficient level of nutrient utilization going into the winter. Worm cattle for internal parasites; provide a high quality, complete mineral supplementation to your cattle; cull poor producing 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 you to be more effective 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 you to consider. The most popular options continue to be commodity feeding, complete feeds, and supplement tubs. When making the decision on one of these options, I would first look at products that help me make the most efficient use of what hay and forage I have available. Research has shown that supplement tubs have the ability to increase forage utilization, and help cows consume lower quality grasses that you might have in your 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 Co-op. Both of these supplements will provide energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins as well as helping the cow to 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, I would look at complete feeds that contain ingredients that will provide additional roughage to your herd. We offer several feeds that contain cottonseed hulls and other digestible fiber sources that will 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 that a cow requires. Complete feeds that 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 will be 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 of that this year might be corn. While corn is at a low cost, the fact that it reduces fiber utilization and digestion would be a reason to not select this product as a supplement. Also soyhulls, while a very popular choice, also can get to a point that they are too expensive. When soyhulls get in the range of $115 and higher, complete feeds will price in and provide you a higher quality product to meet the daily needs of your cattle.

Ingredients available this fall for you to consider will be soyhulls, cottonseed, corn gluten, distiller grains, wheat products and rice products. Each of these ingredients is available to you, but come with different feeding considerations before implementing them into you operation.

As you make your decisions this fall, also keep in mind nutritional disorders that you would want to take 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.

As always, I am available to you at any time to assist you 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 Cooperative is also readily available to assist you in any manner possible.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.