Supplemental Needs During Winter

Published on Thu, 09/22/2022 - 2:13pm

Supplemental Needs During Winter.

 By Maura Keller.

 Winter is a challenging time for farmers and ranchers for a myriad of reasons. Not only do temperatures plummet and equipment malfunctions in the cold, but also forages lose nutritional value for animals to consume. Because of this, producers turn their attention to mineral supplements for herds of all sizes.

“Wintertime is generally characterized by the seasonality of the climate that is the northern hemisphere, which means the temperature gets cooler/colder and the forages decrease in the nutritive value that grazing livestock can extract from them,” says Abe Scheaffer, Ph.D, with SweetPro. “So, the changes in the environment and the available forages requires adjustments of the supplement that was fed during the warmer and vegetative state of the forages. The vegetative state of forages is when the greatest availability of nutrition the livestock can extract from the forages.”

SweetPro Premium Supplements offers a supplementation program for year-round application to grazing and/or forage fed cattle/sheep/goats.

“Livestock will generally eat more supplement when forage quality is lower and nutrient demand is greater than they will when forage quality is higher and nutrient demand is lower. That is to say, livestock will generally consume the quantities and sources of feed that meet their nutrient requirements best,” Scheaffer says. “The use of our lick-blocks and application of our program is excellent for wintertime supplementation, due the goals livestock producers strive to meet, which is optimizing the performance of the animals they manage.”

An Evolution of Sorts
Winter supplements, across the board, seem to have proliferated in the number of different products available. Some of these products are targeted to specific stages of the production cycle, time of year, etc. But, as Scheaffer explains, this has made the choice of whether to supplement your herd and which supplement to use more complicated.

“That is why SweetPro’s program stays the same, all the ingredients stay the same, and the trace mineral package throughout the program stays the same,” Scheaffer says. “The adjustments for which SweetPro lick-tub product the livestock producer chooses is then based on the goals he has for that herd. We strive to put as much decision-making power into the hands of the livestock producer rather than the calendar.”

Considerations To Make
The selection of supplements for a specific herd/operation depends on the goals and objectives of that herd/operation. So, Scheaffer suggests the first step in making a good supplementation decision is to outline the three most important priorities that herd/operation is to achieve. This could be:
• To maintain body condition on mature cows through calving
• To use the stored or dormant forage that is available on- site; and
• To deliver healthy and strong newborn calves with good colostrum and milk.

“Let’s not forget the overall priority that the supplementation program should be cost effective to that operation,” Scheaffer says. “These goals then shape the evaluation of the range of options to consider. That range of options is wide and varied; energy and/or protein, trace minerals, direct fed microbials, supplemental enzymes, etc.. These objectives are good goals for a cow/calf producer to consider. With these or other criteria in mind, they can determine the financial and operational value of the supplement they would choose.”

One of the most common mistakes the team at SweetPro sees producers make is that they pursue a supplement for a herd of mature cows, that are pregnant, and have as a weight management goal for those cows to maintain their body weight and condition.

“Cows that are considered to be in production are not really ever only in a maintenance state. They really are always in a state of production,” Scheaffer says. “When livestock producers have a goal of a cow delivering a live and healthy calf on a 12-month interval time-scale, then those cows are constantly producing.” So, a production beef cow is always in a state of production, lactation, breeding, gestation, back to lactation. Thus, the appropriate supplements are needed so that adequate nutrients are supplied to this continuous state of production.

According to John Grandin, senior technical manager at Compass Minerals, the producer of American Stockman products, environmental conditions during the growing and harvesting of forages can greatly influence feed quality, and the ag industry certainly have experienced plenty of extreme conditions this past growing season.

As such, Grandin recommends producers begin with a forage analysis to identify the quality of your feed. Test your water source; increased frequency of droughts may be changing the chemistry of the water provided for livestock.

“Pregnant and nursing cows require manganese, zinc, copper and cobalt to support the immune system of the developing fetus and calf,” Grandin says. “Consider a multi-mineral nutrient block to supplement the herd’s needs.”

American Stockman offers a full line of mineral supplements for cattle –from plain salt to multi-nutrient mineralized salt. These are available as weather-resistant blocks and bagged loose salt sized for mineral feeders and mixing in feed rations. For ranchers that use horses to work their herds, American Stockman also has mineral bricks, which are ideal for horses.

“Viewing supplements as an expense rather than an investment would be a mistake some ranchers and farmers make,” Grandin says. There are some general best practices to follow, such as testing and knowing the quality and mineral content of forages. Also, supplying mineral supplements in addition to the protein source and monitoring the amount of forage consumed versus the quantity provided since this can result in inaccurately estimating the amount of mineral supplement needed.

Marcus Paskewitz, marketing manager at Riomax, adds that ranchers need to consider prepping that cow, in terms of calving coming up in the spring. “In the second and third trimester during fetal programming, getting mineral into the blood is important, so that mama is in good rig in terms of mineral status, which is then passed on to the fetus,” Paskewitz says. “You’re setting the trajectory of that calf’s life based on the fetal programming that’s happening in the second and third trimester.”

Riomax is a combination of both protein and mineral supplements, with a special focus on helping ranchers get more out of what they’ve already got – squeezing more out of every mouthful of forage and enabling ranchers to save between 15 to 30% on hay or on pasture.
Paskewitz cautions producers to not focus on the cost per ton.

“I get it - that is one way of measuring it. But what we encourage folks to do, whether or not they ever use Riomax, is to make their decisions based on the actual cost per head per day, your real cost,” Paskewitz says. “Another mistake guys tend to make when making purchasing decisions on upfront cost alone is that they end up buying what is perceived as a cheap product, however the cows many times tend to over-consume on these products. This means your actual cost to feed can become extremely expensive – the very last thing a rancher needs in tough times.”

You also want to ensure that the supplement is not right by a water source. Rather, use the tubs as a grazing management tool to encourage cows to graze and travel so you can optimize your land base and the capacity that you have in your own forages.

“You also should have some feeding stations behind a windbreak shelter or somewhere where the cows tend to loaf during weather events such as a blizzard,” Paskewitz says.

Looking Ahead
So, are there any trends in the winter mineral supplement category that producers should pay attention to? Although Grandin would not classify body condition score (BCS) as a new trend, he thinks BCS is a valuable method for monitoring changes in the health of a herd and determining potential winter supplements.

“BCS is even more important this season because of the challenges growers faced with producing this winter’s forages, the potential changes in water quality caused by drought, and the added stresses on the animals caused by these conditions,” Grandin says. “Always consult with your veterinarian or livestock nutrition consultant before changing your feeding and supplements program.”

Paskewitz points to another big trend in the industry, which is being focused more on the “why” of feeding a mineral or supplement, rather than just checking the boxes and saying “yes I’ve fed it.”

“What this means is ranchers are looking to move the needle, in terms of reproductive performance, calf health, forage saving, profitability, and driving down input costs,” Paskewitz says. “It’s really the bigger question at stake: why are we using these tools and what are we trying to get done? As opposed to “I’m just feeding a mineral or protein to feel good or because I think they need it.” It’s got to be looked at holistically, in terms of actually driving the economic model of the rancher. Too many folks over the years have been satisfied with the status quo; just doing what dad and grandpa did. While that might have been great in the ’80s and ’90s, today we need to be laser-focused on making good, sound ranch business decisions that will minimize our inputs, optimize our resources, and do the best possible in terms of our genetic potential of our cowherd.”