December 2016
Farm & Field

Making the Most of Your Cattle’s Feed

Protein is critical for maximum forage utilization.


SWEETLIX EnProAl poured tubs provide needed protein along with other essential nutrients to help cattle perform better on lower-quality forages.


Ruminants have the unique ability to utilize materials inedible by humans (grasses, forbs and other roughages) and convert them into highly nutritious meat products for human consumption. This is made possible by the symbiotic relationship between rumen microbes and the ruminant. The ruminant’s ability to convert cheap roughages into high-quality meat and milk is its main advantage over other commercially raised livestock (pork, poultry, etc.). Given that forages are among the cheapest feeds available, it goes without saying that anything we can do to maximize forage intake and/or utilization is going to positively affect the bottom line.

Unfortunately, not all forages provided to ruminants are going to be of the highest quality. Weather delays can set back hay harvests resulting in over-mature forages. While species variations exist, in general as a plant matures, it converts from a vegetative (leafy) state into a reproductive (stemy) state. When a plant is in the reproductive state, the plant’s nutritional resources are focused on producing reproductive structures (flowers, stem, seeds, etc.) instead of leaves. Nutritional quality decreases due to an increase in indigestible fiber (stem) and decreased nutrient content (less leaves). The total loss of quality is dependent on the type of forage. Grasses mature faster than legumes such as clover or alfalfa. Thus nutritional quality of grasses such as Bermuda or fescue drops faster than legumes. Indicators such as stem size and stem softness as well as the presence of seed heads or flowers can help to gauge forage maturity. Hay containing large amounts of mature seed heads will be of low quality.

When it comes to bulky, low-quality hay, intake is limited by the amount that can fit in the rumen at one time. The faster the hay can be digested and moved out of the rumen (rumen turnover) into the lower gastrointestinal tract, the faster more forages can be consumed. Quicker rumen turnover time is advantageous in that more nutrients can be processed by the animal in the same amount of time. More nutrients mean more building blocks, thus improving overall animal performance.

Protein is a key to fiber digestion and intake. Protein is a limiting factor in fiber fermentation. Remember, the reason low-quality forages are lacking in nutrition is that they contain higher amounts of fiber. Recall that, in feeding a ruminant, one is actually providing nutrients for the rumen microbes. Protein is a key component for microbial adhesion to fiber needed to begin the digestion process. Protein is also needed for the enzymes responsible for breaking down fiber. Additionally, inadequate dietary protein depresses animal performance; in turn, depressing appetite, further hindering animal performance. For all of the stated reasons, protein supplementation improves forage digestion and increases forage intake.

Just as you like three regular meals and between-meal snacks throughout the day instead of one huge meal, rumen microbes respond better to small regular doses of protein rather than slug feeding once a day or less frequently. Research repeatedly shows that regular daily supplementation of protein yields better results than less-frequent protein supplementation. Studies conducted at Kansas State University reflect this. In one study, reducing supplementation frequency caused cows to lose more weight during the winter. In another, daily supplementation was shown to improve forage intake and digestibility as opposed to twice-a-week supplementation.

Research shows that it doesn’t take much protein to enact a positive influence. Supplementation with limited amounts (less than 2 pounds) of a high protein supplement increased digestibility and intake of lower-quality forages in numerous studies.

When it comes to providing supplemental protein to cattle for the purpose of stimulating forage utilization and intake, there is no better way than the use of self-fed SWEETLIX poured blocks. These highly palatable, weather-resistant, self-fed supplements provide needed protein along with energy, minerals and vitamins. Because cattle naturally consume these blocks multiple times during the day, this provides a steady intake of protein to help rumen microbes digest hay most efficiently.

In summary, protein is a key factor in the utilization and intake of low-quality forages. Research confirms a regular, daily intake of even a small amount of protein helps aid forage digestibility and increase rumen turnover rate. SWEETLIX self-fed poured block supplements deliver 1-2 pounds of supplementation daily in a convenient, weather-resistant, no-waste form. SWEETLIX offers a wide variety of protein-supplement products in multiple product sizes to allow the greatest amount of flexibility for cattle producers. Contact your local Quality Co-op or visit for more information.


Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations ( You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about SWEETLIX mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep and wildlife. References available upon request.