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Top 10 Signs That You Might Need a Beef Nutritionist

By: Naomi Paley, BSA, PAg, Regional Livestock Specialist, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Yorkton

October 2017

For the first time in several years, this summer has been one for the record books in terms of warm weather and sunshine.  That also means that most of the hay and forage in the east region of the province was cut and baled in early July, without a drop of rain since then.  Even though yields might be lower than normal, it’s likely going to mean better quality. 

As they say, the proof will be in the pudding!  Nothing is certain until a feed test is done to know what we are dealing with in terms of forage quality and how we can make it work or stretch it out to keep the cows properly fed through the winter until calving.

If you’ve never employed the services of a beef cattle nutritionist, you likely don’t know what you’re missing.  This article will highlight some specific indicators that will point you to the fact that working with a beef nutritionist is in your best interest.  Paying attention to cow nutrition and having balanced rations will not only save you money but can significantly improve overall health, reproduction and performance in your cow herd.

You might need a beef nutritionist if:

  1. Your forage crop yield is less than normal and you need to stretch your supplies with straw or buy additional feed.
    Stretching forage supplies with straw or oat hulls is not rocket science but it does require feed test results and the addition of specific amounts of energy, protein and mineral supplements.

  2. The Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) or energy of your forage is less than 55 per cent.
    Bred cows in good body condition will require a minimum of 55 per cent TDN just to maintain over the winter feeding period.

  3. Your cow’s average body condition score is 2.5 or less.
    Cows with a body condition of 2.5 or less going into winter will require extra feed and energy to get through to calving.  In addition, these cows are more likely to have weak calves and will take longer to rebreed.

  4. Your calving percentage is lower than 85 per cent (greater than 15 per cent of cows come up open).
    Body condition and nutritional status of beef cows has a direct relationship to fertility.  When herd fertility is compromised, nutrition is the first place to look.

  5. Your calving season is six months long.
    A standard beef production goal is to have at least 60 per cent of the herd become pregnant in the first 21-day cycle of breeding.  Cows that are in poor body condition (2.5 or less), on a declining plane of nutrition or are deficient in certain nutrients will not be cycling in a timely manner.  The result will be a drawn out calving season and an uneven calf crop.

  6. Your water quality is poor or high in sulphates.
    If you’ve never tested the water source for your livestock, it’s probably one of the most important things you can do, next to feed testing.  Water quality can make or break the productivity of a beef cow herd, affecting everything from weight gain to trace mineral status and ultimately reproductive health.

  7.  You are confused and overwhelmed at the feed store when you go to buy mineral.
    There are likely as many mineral options at the feed store as there are apps for your smart phone, so it is no wonder that many people get a little overwhelmed when it comes time to choose which one is right for their cattle.  Ultimately, this decision should be made in consultation with your nutritionist.  Using the results from your feed and water analysis, and taking into account the animal’s stage of production, the correct choice of either an off-the-shelf product or custom blended mineral will be made clear.

  8. You have feed grain or forage that may contain mycotoxins or ergot.
    If feed is suspect to having heated or moulded, there is the potential for the production of mycotoxins to occur.  In addition, the presence of Ergot in feed grain and forage has been a growing concern. We now have the ability to test for these toxins at PDS Labs in Saskatoon allowing us to determine the safety of the feed. 

  9. You plan to keep your calves to background them for a certain rate of gain or marketing date.
    The decision to keep calves back from market and to feed them until a later date is often made based on economics and markets.  Having the ability to set up a ration plan that will project the costs and predicted gain on your calves will allow you to make informed and profitable decisions.

  10. You plan to custom feed cows or calves on contract for a specific gain and cost.
    Custom feeding cows or calves can be a viable additional enterprise to an operation if the numbers make sense.  Designing a ration plan that takes into account the type of cattle and your feed and yardage costs is an absolute necessity before making the decision to custom feed.

For more information on beef cattle rations or other livestock questions, contact Naomi Paley, Regional Livestock Specialist at 306-768-1686 or the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

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