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A 21st-century supplement for 21st-century cattle

Technology is advancing at breakneck speed for all industries, including agriculture. We will likely see as many changes and improvements in the next 10 years as we’ve seen over the last three to five decades, particularly in the field of digital technology. Not surprisingly, agriculture is one of the least digitized industries — but that is quickly changing. New technology is being rapidly introduced and readily adopted. We have seen and will continue to see this trend in the beef industry as well. Examples include remote sensors and drones, new ways to measure production parameters, sensors that evaluate animal behavior to predict health issues, virtual fencing, 3D printing and more. Ultimately, each of these tools will be used to improve production efficiency. Alltech Chief Innovation Officer Aidan Connolly recently composed a blog describing much of this up-and-coming technology.

Old fundamentals still apply

Even with the advent of new technology, our supplementation needs for beef cattle still begin with a few basic fundamentals. The starting point for a beef cow is evaluating forage quality and body condition.

Related article: Innovation in cattle mineral delivery

Beef cow body condition score (BCS) is a subjective measurement using a ranking scale of 1-9, with 1 being very thin and 9 being very fat (refer to chart). Most producers should strive for a moderately scored cow of 5-6 heading into fall and winter and should also adopt nutritional strategies to maintain that condition. It is not uncommon for cows to lose some weight over the winter months, but there can be consequences surrounding both when and to what extent this occurs. Cows with a good BCS going into winter have less maintenance requirements, which means there will be less cost involved in maintaining these animals.  And, if they calve while in good condition, they generally have fewer calving problems and more vigorous calves — plus, they normally wean a heavier calf and have better reproductive efficiency than cows calving in poor BCS.

Monitoring cow BCS is important at all times of the year, but especially during stressful times, including weaning, extreme weather, late gestation and calving. CRYSTALYX® offers the Beef Cow BCS App, a very handy tool — which can be downloaded for free — that helps with both scoring cows and keeping track of their condition over time.

Forage quality is also important and can be measured and defined in several ways, but all interpretations relate to protein and fiber levels. Forages low in crude protein (i.e., less than 10 percent) usually have relatively high fiber levels and lower energy values, resulting in lower relative feed value (RFV). It’s these types of forages that need some help — and a CRYSTALYX program can improve utilization by 10-20 percent, enabling better digestibility, higher intake and, ultimately, more energy for the animal. This is fundamental to a CRYSTALYX program for beef cows in fall and winter forage programs.

Again, BCS and forage quality are going to tell us what we need to do, but what supplement strategy should we use? Do we need to supplement protein and energy, implement an effective mineral program or all of the above? Once that is decided, the next important decision will be how to do what we need to do.

CRYSTALYX addresses essential needs with newer technology

Supplement strategies are really very basic; they haven’t changed much over the years.  What has changed is the means to apply the strategies. Feeding CRYSTALYX free-choice is a relatively new supplement technology that has transformed in the last 20 years, with advanced formulations and newer, more innovative applications, such as the BioBarrel®. Compare this to technology like range cubes, pellets and pressed protein blocks, all of which haven’t changed much since the 1950s. Don’t get me wrong: there are still plenty of areas where feeding these products makes sense and the nutritive value of these programs has improved — but with modern cattle and technology, CRYSTALYX has more to offer and has advanced further. Future nutrition programs will require more efficiency, and CRYSTALYX is a very efficient supplement because it requires less labor, equipment and overall delivery costs than nearly all hand-fed programs. Additionally, it is a superior form of mineral delivery, since it’s an all-weather supplement and has virtually no waste. Still, these programs will need to continue to evolve to keep up with the changing times.

In the past year especially, we have written a lot about newer technologies in the CRYSTALYX line-up of products. Some of this technology is very new, such as the Blueprint® nutrition program, which replaces all inorganic trace mineral components with Bioplex® organic trace minerals. Today, we offer several CRYSTALYX products with this nutrition package. Yet, even with these more recent advancements, applications of the last decade — such as the WeatherAll® BioBarrel, dairy applications and grazing management programs — are still regarded as relatively “new” and continue to bring value both to our business and that of our customers.

Many of these CRYSTALYX advantages have been written about in our weekly blogs. As technology continues to advance, our cows and our supplement programs will continue to become more efficient, and CRYSTALYX is no exception.