6. Winter rations – Protein or Energy?

Cattle grazing dormant mature grass, crop residues, or other lower quality forages in the fall and early winter are often unable to consume sufficient quantities to meet their energy and protein requirements particularly as temperatures fall and requirements increase. A common misconception many producers have is that since cattle are now deficient in energy, supplementation of the diet with an energy source (grain, pellets or range cubes) is the best solution.

In reality, a cow in an energy deficient situation (assuming adequate roughage is available) is caused by a forage protein deficiency. When forage protein levels decline, rumen microflora efficiency declines because their protein requirement can no longer be met by forage alone. Protein is the first limiting nutrient for those microbes in the rumen and without enough protein they can’t work to ferment and extract the energy that is tied up in the fiber. Supplementation with an energy source like grain also reduces the rumen microbial population of the forage digesters as they shift to digestion of the energy addition. This serves to further the inefficiency of forage digestion and lower the dry matter intake.  If producers focus on protein supplementation, maximizing the efficiency of rumen forage digestion will increase and impact the energy and protein status of the cow. Energy supplementation should only be considered in cases where cows are extremely thin and need to gain body condition before calving, or when requirements for fetal development and milk production (ie: calving in early spring) are more than dormant forages can be expected to supply. The following table will illustrate.

No Supplement Protein Supplement Energy Supplement
Forage Intake (dry matter) 20 lb. 23 lb. 17 lb.
Digestibility (energy) 50% 55% 45%
Energy From Supplement 0 0.75 lb. + 2.4 lb. +
Energy From Forage 10 lb. 13.4 lb. 10.05 lb.

*This example assumes a forage of 7% crude protein, an increase in  forage digestability of 5% with protein supp., and a decrease in forage digestability of 5% with energy supp. There is no real net energy gain with the addition of 3 lb. of grain or energy source. You would need to feed more than 2 times that amount to net a higher energy intake than one pound of a protein supplement will provide. The gains come from increasing efficiency of forage digestion thus increasing the dry matter intake which enables the cow to extract more energy that is bound in the fiber of lower quality feeds.

*For more information, please contact Craig at (403)-894-3147


5. The Importance of Feed & Water Testing

Many producers make it a practice to test their feed every year and many either don’t get around to it or have decided they don’t need to anymore because they have seen similar results for several years. However, in order to insure proper nutrition in your cow herd and to be cost effective, regular feed testing is just good a good management practice.

The protein, energy, and mineral composition in forage samples can vary and change from year to year. For example, in the winter of 2012-13 in central Alberta, there have been prevalent cases of downer cows that appear to have milk fever. A wet summer & late harvest have produced calcium and magnesium levels about 25% less than average in feeds and higher fiber levels have resulted in lower feed intake. Many producers being unaware of that have seen cows in poor body condition and have had additional costs of treating affected animals when an adjusted mineral program would have adjusted for the deficiencies and cost pennies to fix.

Protein, and energy (expressed as TDN) as well as the macro minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sulphur & sodium) are more often variable from year to year so should be tested annually. The micro minerals such as Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Selenium, and others tend to see less variation so testing every 5 years may be more cost effective.

Often overlooked is the mineral content of the water consumed by cattle. A  1200 lb. cow will consume about 55 litres (12 Gal.) of water per day. For example, if water contains high sulphates, the sulphur requirement is met without supplemental sulphur. More importantly, excess minerals can affect the availability and uptake of other elements. High iron can affect Phosphorus availability and high phosphate can limit calcium availability to name just two.

A complete feed test will cost $70-$100 per sample and a protein, energy; macro mineral test will be about $40 and should be done using “wet chemistry” as the NIR testing method is not as accurate. Feed water tests will cost about $100. Your nutrition consultant will use these to formulate a cost effective mineral program to address the challenges of your individual operation and correct production problems such as poor breed back, retained placenta and other calving related problems, or herd health.

*For more information, please contact Craig at (403)-894-3147

4. Recommendations for Grazing Legumes

Because of the potential for increased gains many producers are grazing legume forages like alfalfa & clover however the downside of potential death loss keeps many producers from taking advantage of the significant gains that can be realized. There are several things that can be part of an effective management plan to mitigate the bloat risk.

Some recent studies through Alberta Agriculture using at least 15% Sainfoin as part of the legume mixture has been shown to control bloat. There are commercial bloat prevention products that have varied claims and efficacy. Silent Herder is a mineral product that is used but has no claim for bloat. A liquid product called Alfasure with the active ingredient Poloxalene has a registered claim for bloat. The downside is that it is administered through the drinking water and if other non- treated water sources are available, control will be limited. A mineral with poloxalene that is consumed in the pasture is another method that is effective. The ionophore Bovatec has a claim for bloat in the USA, however is not approved in Canada. Your veterinarian could prescribe a trace mineralized salt with Bovatec if he felt that would be appropriate. Oxytetracycline Hydrochloride also has a claim for reducing the incidence of bloat in young cattle on pasture that your veterinarian could prescribe.

Some management measures that should be utilized when using bloat prevention products will help ensure successful legume grazing. Feed bloat prevention products at least 2-3 days before exposure to bloat producing pastures and ensure animals are well fed before entering pastures. The placement of dry roughage (hay or straw) in pastures and ensuring recommended consumption of bloat prevention products will also help mitigate the risks. With the use of bloat prevention products, good management practices, and good luck, grazing legume pastures can be successful.

*For more information, please contact Craig at (403)-894-3147

3. Pinkeye in Beef Cattle

Infectious keratoconjunctivitis (IBK) or more commonly known as Pinkeye is the most common and widely seen disease of the eye in cattle and the bacterial infection is caused by Moraxella bovis. Pinkeye spreads quickly, is quite infectious, lasts from a few days to several weeks, and one or both eyes may be affected. Plant awns, face flies, bright sunlight, dry & dusty conditions and shipping stress are all risk factors associated with pinkeye. Most corneal ulcers will heal without loss of vision, but corneal rupture and blindness can occur in severe cases. There are similarities in the diagnosis of IBR and pinkeye so consultation with your veterinarian may be warranted.

Prevention and treatment strategies include separation of affected animals and providing shade or eye patches if possible. Insecticide ear tags will help reduce transmission of infections by flies.   A good mineral program with emphasis on Zinc, Copper, Iodine, Selenium & Vitamin E will also produce a stronger immune system to enable cattle to better fend off infections. Consult your veterinarian regarding IBK vaccination and treatment with penicillin injections in the eye area and treatment with long acting oxytetracycline.

*For more information, please contact Craig at (403)-894-3147

1. Managing Coccidiosis in Calves

Coccidia are parasites that are present in virtually all cattle. Their life cycle begins as oocysts are ingested from contaminated bedding grounds. Typically calves will be infected from nursing or licking themselves or others who have been in contact with contaminated feces. Once ingested, coccidia rapidly reproduce and multiply, invading the intestinal lining. Although bloody diarrhea is the symptom most often associated with severe outbreaks, subclinical infection can interfere with normal growth and development and can suppress the immune system which compounds the problem at times of stress such as weaning and bad weather at calving time. About 21-28 days after ingestion these oocysts are shed in the feces and the cycle starts again.

Calving ground management by providing fresh bedding in confined areas and moving cattle to clean bedding areas if possible will help to reduce re-infection. The use of ionophores (such as Bovatec & Rumensin), Amprolium, and Deccox   are effective strategies to kill the parasites in the cow herd so over time the number of Coccidia are significantly reduced and infection in the newborn calves is largely prevented. Your veterinarian and mineral supplier can work with you to formulate a mineral or trace mineralized salt with a coccidiostat to prevent outbreaks.

*For more information, please contact Craig at (403)-894-3147

2. Flax and Reproductive Performance in Bulls

The addition of flax in bull rations appears to have a positive effect on reproductive performance as well as feed efficiency. In a recent trial at Kansas State University, 30 yearling bulls were distributed evenly into 2 groups and  fed a commercial bull developer with one group receiving the addition of flax, an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. At the end of the 60 day trial period, both groups were weighed and examined for breeding soundness. The group fed a flax supplement showed an 11% increase in sperm motility and a 36% increase in normal sperm.

A second 70 day trial was conducted using 120 yearling angus bulls averaging 1115 lbs. that were randomly sorted into 2 treatment groups of 40 head & tracked using a computerized feed intake monitoring system as well as one control group of 40 head. Both groups were fed a TMR consisting of chopped hay, corn silage, wheat middlings, and 3%  supplement fed twice daily. The 2 test groups were also fed a flax supplement. The results showed a 17% increase in feed efficiency, a 5% decrease in feed intake, and a 7% increase in daily gain.

These trials provided a commercial flax product in a low moisture block that contained 14% protein as well as 15% fat (from flaxseed) and a complete vitamin/mineral package.

*For more information, please contact Craig at (403)-894-3147