On the Blog

Winter supplementation in a spring calving herd

If you’re supplementing now, you’re applying a lot of research.

There has been much interest and much to report during the past 10 years from the animal science community regarding fetal programming and research therein.  Fetal programming, also described as developmental programming or imprinting, is simply the effect of nutrient supplementation to the dam (in this case the cow), usually in the 2nd and 3rd trimester, on the subsequent performance of her offspring throughout life. 

With beef cattle, many studies have evaluated varying supplement strategies, primarily with protein on low quality roughages.  The results have shown improvement in the next calf crop weaning weight, reproductive efficiency in replacement heifers, fertility, and carcass merit.  It is quite fascinating that something as simple and basic as protein supplementation during fetal development can have such a lifelong positive impact, regardless of environment or management.

 It stands to reason then if one nutrient such as protein can have an influence, then others such as minerals or vitamins ought to as well? Last week at the NCBA Convention in San Diego there was a presentation given at the Cattleman’s College from researchers at Oregon State University that looked at just this,[1] trace mineral supplementation in the 2nd and 3rd trimester and fetal programming.   The data summarized many of the same benefits cited from research done with protein supplementation: Weaning weight improvements and feedlot performance.  Also noted was an even further improvement when organic trace minerals (chelates) were used as a portion of the trace mineral mixture.

Research is often done to simply substantiate what a lot of producers and scientists already know or think they know.  After all, research is done to “test a hypothesis.”  We’ve done much the same with our own CRYSTALYX® research.  In the late 1990’s we conducted trials at Kansas State University looking at the effect of supplementing CRYSTALYX® to low quality forages, the backbone reason of why CRYSTALYX® is fed.  What was found substantiated that yes, supplementing with a CRYSTALYX® product containing protein (BGF-30™ in the case) increased the intake and digestibility of low quality forage.  This is a basic supplement strategy.  Also in the 1990’s and 2000’s we did numerous studies on the influence of CRYSTALYX® on grazing patterns and distribution in pastured cattle.  This led to several patents and was deemed a novel find.  Still, I recall presenting some of that data during a producer meeting in South Central South Dakota and an elderly rancher told me later that night he liked the data.  He then went on to tell me he’d been putting this same practice with CRYSTALYX® to work for the past 20 years.

So, if you attend meetings, conventions or read publication about nutritional practices that “back you up” in your management, great!  We can all learn from one another.  I often look at the research being presented in our industry as saying, “why not supplement Vs why do we need to supplement.   Supplementation for performance is a much better return on investment than supplementing to just get by.  Even poor management gets lucky at times and just gets by.

Overall, if you are feeding CRYSTALYX® this season and have been since your cows 2nd trimester of pregnancy, you have been practicing supplement strategies that are very well researched.  CRYSTALYX® is very confident of the programs that are offered.  One that is very popular is the Breed-Up® product line that is designed specifically for the 3rd trimester, calving and breeding periods.   Supplement with confidence and be sure to share your ideas with your neighbors, industry, and extension and feed professionals too.  Most good ideas start at the farm and ranch.


[1] 2014 Oregon Beef Council Report, Beef 130. R.S Marques, R.F. Cooke, M.C. Rodrigues, B.I. Cappellozza, L.G.T. Silva, P. Moriel, and D.W. Bohnert.  Effects of organic or inorganic Cu, Co, Mn, and Zn supplementation to late-gestation cows on performance responses to the subsequent calf crop