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Precision nutrient eelivery

A current buzz word in Agriculture is Precision.  In crop farming it is a way to highlight the fact a new technology is being applied to a process; such as satellite linked Precision Planting and Precision Crop Nutrient Management.  In animal nutrition, we also like to look for the newest thing or magic bullet.  I am all for innovation and staying current with technology, but some proven methods should not be overlooked in the zeal to be new.  This Precision Nutrient Delivery phrase may help some people understand and accept how low moisture block self-fed supplements like Brigade® and several of the Dairy CRYSTALYX® formulas such as Dry Cow™ Formula, Close-Up™ Formula and Transition Stress™ Formula work; even with modern ration balancing technologies.

Advancements in genetics, management practices and nutrition have been impressive for beef and dairy.  Animal numbers have declined over the last 20 years and total production of meat and milk has continued increase.  However, there are times due to animal biology and necessary management intervention the “ration” in the bunk is not the ideal delivery system for key nutrients, such as the trace minerals and vitamins.  When animals are not eating 100% of what is in the bunk we have the risk of compromised animal health and performance.

Average Dry Matter Intake

Cows and calves eat weight (pounds / grams) and we balance diet on percentages.  The best number a nutritionist has for formulating a ration is the average dry matter intake (DMI) of a group.  This works very well in most situations, except when the variation of individual animal intake is high.  This is often the case during time of stress such as beef or dairy cows at calving, cow movement into new groups, weaning time for calves and receiving feeder cattle into the feedlot.   Using an average DMI of 28 pound for cows around the time of calving is not very useful when some there animals are eating 5-6 pounds less.  Add to this the fact that most cows will see a significant drop in DMI the 4-5 day before and after calving.  Calves are at a lower intake but the variation is often higher.   Figure 1 depicts the DMI distribution for a group of animals.  This could be a group of calves at weaning or cows around the time of calving.  The X axis would be DMI.  The “IT” in the title is any trace mineral, vitamin or additive we want the animal to consume.  I did not have amounts in the X axis, because that number will vary by animal type.  The Y axis is the number of animals.  The numbers in the bar represents how many animals are eating at that level.  Most nutritionist would balance the ration at the intake of the 8 animals in the middle bar.  However, all the animals to the left of the center 8 bar are eating less than the average intake.

Figure 1

Impact of Nutrient Concentration

Balancing diets at average DMI meets the animal needs most of the time for macro nutrients like protein and energy, however it falls short for trace mineral and vitamins and some feed additives which are provided in small amounts such as parts per million (ppm), parts per billion (ppb) or gram amounts.  What are a ppm, ppb and grams in terms the non-nutritionist can understand?

1 ppm is 1 car in bumper to bumper traffic lined up from Cleveland, OH to San Francisco, CA

1 ppb is 1 second in 32 years

1 gram is 1 gum ball in a gar of 454 gum balls.

Delivering “IT”

“IT” could be any nutrient that we want to have high confidence that each animal is consuming each and every day.  Getting “IT’ consistently delivered to every animal is a real challenge when you consider the variation in individual animal intake and the small nutrient amounts needed.  Again, for the animal to get 20 ppm of “IT” they must eat 100% of what the ration is balanced for.  For example, many dairy nutritionists have a target level of Vitamin E, such as 1000 IU/animal/day.  What are our options? 

  1. Balance the ration at a Vitamin E level that is high enough such as 2000 IU/day which would deliver at least 1000 IU to every animal.  Over fortifying in the ration balancing process is more expensive with today’s nutrient cost compared to just a few years ago.
  2. Use a self-fed supplement that containing the target nutrient, which can deliver a portion of the target nutrient

Figure 2 looks at the same group of animal but the Y axis is now nutrient concentration.  The horizontal line shows the target intake.  The colored coded bars indicate the nutrient contribution from both CRYSTALYX® and the ration of that nutrient to the animal.  

Figure 2

Weaning time is just around the corner for many of our spring calving herds, dairy farms are calving year round and our fall caving herds are entering the last trimester.  CRYSTALYX® offers many research proven formula options that work for Precision Nutrient Delivery.