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Alternatives to supplementation.

Bovine supplements do not necessarily need to come from a block, tub, liquid or bag. There are many management practices that either reduce the nutrient demand of a cow or increase the nutrient supply without the use of traditional supplementation. Implementing these practices may not eliminate the need to supplement; however, they all help stockpile body condition. Let's review a few of these alternatives to supplementation.

Genetics and grazing strategy

It should go without saying that the genetic selection of cattle has a profound effect on nutrient demand. The smaller-framed, lower-milking cow will require less supplementation in her lifetime, making her better-suited for the desert range environment. Calving in synchronization and harmony with mother nature and green grass will better match the cow's needs to feed resources, reducing the need for supplementation.

Cows that need the nutritional help are usually the ones shoved away when cattle are not sorted. The boss cows often intimidate the young, thin and timid. Sort cows into groups of similar nutrient demand, sorting by age, body condition and frame size.

Once they are sorted, apply the "lead-follow" supplementation program. Place the cattle that demand the highest level of nutrients into one group. Give this group first shot at a field, regardless of whether vegetation is meadow aftermath or rangeland. Research has shown that cows will select a ration higher in protein and energy upon first introduction into a field because they seek out the lush feed and better plant portions.

As time goes on, the quality of the ration will decline because the best plants and portions of plants have been harvested. After the cream is harvested, move these cows to the next ungrazed pasture and bring the cows with lower nutrient demands into this already slightly grazed field. Have good fences and plenty of lead pastures. Keep the groups separate all winter. This will take time and labor in the form of management.

Wean the calf

Weaning the calf is the best method to reduce a cow's nutrient demand. Ceasing lactation can reduce a cow's nutrient requirement significantly. This might be enough of a reduction that existing late summer and early fall standing forage balances the ration. The cow may move from nutrient-deficient to maintenance or nutrient-positive simply by weaning the calf.

Time is the cheapest method to restore body condition. Weaning the calf early and supplementing a few pounds of alfalfa every other day is potentially netting a gain of 1 pound (lb.) per day during the middle trimester of pregnancy, even on dry feed. One body condition score (BCS) equals about 60-80 lb. on a moderately framed cow. In 80 days, a cow's body condition has increased by one full score. By that time the cow will be in the last trimester, at which time it is difficult to add body condition.

Supplement strategies

In support of good management practices, a phosphorous and trace-mineral supplement that is matched to the forage base is essential for the well-being of the brood cow and unborn fetus. A good mineral package boosts the immune system, improves breedback, and, with the addition of an ionophore, may improve feed efficiency.

Research has shown that feeding protein supplements every other day yields similar results to supplementation every day of the same protein source. When feeding every other day, the total amount of protein fed is the same as feeding every day; it is just fed in twice the amount every other day. For example, on many ranches, 7-10 lb. of good-quality alfalfa could be fed every other day to cows grazing on dry feed just as effectively as feeding a more expensive, convenient feed supplement (such as tubs, blocks, liquid, etc.) every day. When feeding only 7 lb., be careful to spread the hay out thin and fast so all cows get their 7 lb.

It's important to note that this every-other-day feeding does not yield the same result with "energy" supplementation. Why? The rumen bugs that break down proteins have a lifespan of 48-72 hours. The rumen bugs that break down energy have a lifespan of 24-36 hours. Energy supplements need to be fed every day.

Ranch managers who recognize and utilize alternative forms of supplementation can reduce annual carrying costs while maintaining production levels at sustainable levels.

• Consider internal and external parasite control. This will reduce the nutrient burden on the cow as she will not be supporting freeloading parasites.

• Maintain proper year-round stocking rates.

• Stockpile forage for fall and winter use.

• Maintain fences.

• Keep an open mind to new methods of grazing in the form of windrowed hay or meadow and rangeland reclamation.

Planning ahead is paramount to successfully incorporating these methods into an operation.

Comment on this article.That's enough for this month. As always, if you would like to discuss this article or simply want to talk cows, do not hesitate to contact me at 775-385-7665 or send an e-mail.

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