As the days get shorter and cooler, many of us think of hunting season and perhaps dream of snagging a trophy buck or bagging some pheasants. If you have a beef cow herd, it is also the start of “protein season,” as Sam Strahan coined it in his previous blog.
What is protein season?
As we progress toward winter, grasses and crop residues go from mature to dormant. Starting in late summer, the protein level of these forages declines every week, while fiber increases. These are what nutritionists refer to as “low-quality forages”: your cows will get less energy out of these forages with every week that goes by.
Fortunately, ruminant animals can unlock more energy from these low-quality forages if you supplement their diets with protein. This can either be true (or actual) protein or non-protein nitrogen. Many of our CRYSTALYX® products contain a blend of both. Sam Strahan did a great job of explaining the differences between these two forms of supplemental nitrogen in the blog referenced above.
Related article: Beef cow supplementation: Is there a right choice?
Protein season — the time that you should be feeding protein to beef cattle on low-quality forages — will continue until you get green grass next spring.
Why is energy important for beef cows?
If other nutrients are adequate, energy is the primary driver of body weight gain, or body condition. After spring-calving cows are weaned in the fall, they can put on ample weight gain or body condition, depending on how much energy is available to them. Protein supplementation of low-quality forage will increase the digestibility (energy release) and intake of low-quality forages in order to maintain or increase body condition. Many cattlemen refer to this as “stretching” their forage.
Maintaining body condition throughout winter is critical to delivering a healthy calf and preparing a cow to re-breed in a timely manner. A cow’s body condition score at calving is highly correlated to how well she breeds back in the breeding season, as it reflects the quality of her nutrition program through the winter.
Ideally, cattlemen should aim for their cows to have a body condition score of at least 5.5 at calving.
How can we supplement protein?
Protein supplementation can be accomplished in many ways. Options include hand-fed supplements like alfalfa hay, commodity co-products, protein cubes and cake, or self-fed supplements, like blocks and liquids. Remember that commodities and alfalfa do not contain supplemental or balanced levels of trace minerals and vitamins, in addition to key macro minerals. While the use of CRYSTALYX for this purpose was detailed in Sam’s aforementioned blog, I would like to shift gears and focus on supplementing protein with a new block form called CrystalBlox™.
What is CrystalBlox?
CrystalBlox is a self-fed supplement block that uses both low-moisture block technology and compressed (distillers grains) block technology. CrystalBlox combines the predictable intake of CRYSTALYX with a lower cost per ton and the expanded intake range we see with compressed blocks. CrystalBlox is a self-fed supplement that can provide more intake than CRYSTALYX and features a much greater degree of intake control than we typically see with a compressed or poured block. Our extensive field work with CrystalBlox has demonstrated typical intakes of 1 to 1.25 pounds per head per day. As with any self-fed supplement, you can manage this intake by changing the amount of surface area (i.e., the number of containers) available to the herd. Providing more containers or surface area to the herd will generally increase intake; making fewer containers available will lower intake. Unlike CRYSTALYX, when using CrystalBlox, you may need to spend a little more time managing the number of containers available to the herd in order to achieve your desired intake level.
With CRYSTALYX protein supplements, we generally recommend 20-30 head per container. But with CrystalBlox protein supplements, we list 10-40 head per container. This gives producers greater flexibility in order to tailor intake to fit their needs.
As with CRYSTALYX, CrystalBlox also delivers macro minerals, trace minerals and vitamins to round out your herd’s supplement program. There are also Blueprint® formulations available in CrystalBlox.
Why choose CrystalBlox?
Producers seeking a higher level of protein delivery than what can typically be achieved with CRYSTALYX 20% or 30% protein products might prefer CrystalBlox 20% or 30% protein products. A typical intake of 0.75 pounds of a CRYSTALYX 30% protein product will result in a delivery of 100 grams of supplemental protein. However, a typical managed intake of 1.25 pounds of a CrystalBlox 30% protein product will result in a delivery of 170 grams of supplemental protein.
CrystalBlox formulas are an excellent way to maximize your returns from a supplement program that’s available 24/7 while also minimizing equipment and labor requirements. Its strongest feature is delivering more protein when forage situations or cow nutrient requirements need a boost. CrystalBlox is not intended to be a replacement for CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements but, rather, to provide an additional supplement option that capitalizes on predictable intake precision and helps keep costs under control.