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Feed prices: How can CRYSTALYX help?

Would it be safe to say that things are a bit volatile in our world? The political situation is in turmoil, the weather is crazy (as always) from one side of the country to the other, and significantly impacting us in the ag world right now is the increase in the grain markets. For the latter, depending on whether you are on the “buy” side or the “sell” side, you could be either smiling or frowning.

I am writing this following a very bullish USDA market report, which drove the CBOT March corn price to explode past the $5 a bushel market for the first time in several years. Similarly, soybean and other proteins are rising, as is the distillers grain market. 

What a difference a year makes:

January 13, 2020 January 13, 2021
Corn: $3.89 ½ Corn: $5.24 ½ (a 35% increase; +$48/ton)
Soybeans: $9.29 ¼ Soybeans: $14.06 ¼ (a 51% increase)
Soybean meal: $299.0 Soybean meal: $457.10 (a 53% increase; +$158/ton)
Distillers grain: $150  Distillers grain: $230

As a long-time nutritionist, I have shared with many producers over the years that a sound nutritional program that works during the good times will also work when costs are rising, because our cattle — or sheep, goats, horses, etc. — don’t pay attention to the markets as they are growing, milking and producing for us. They just say, “Feed me right and let my genetics show the possibilities.”

Right now, in mid-winter, there are large groups of cows across the country in or approaching late gestation. What’s the risk if a producer chooses to rely on average- to poor-quality hay as the sole diet, which will likely not completely meet the nutritional needs of many cows? 

  • Lost pounds of gain and reduced pregnancy rates: Last-trimester feeding of protein: 2007 Nebraska study (Martin, J. L., K.A. Vonnahme, D.C. Adams, G.P. Lardy and R.N. Funston. 2007. Effects of dam nutrition on growth and reproductive performance of heifer calves. J. Anim. Sci. 85:841-847).
    • The birth weights of heifer calves from supplemented and non-supplemented dams were not different; however, heifer progeny from supplemented cows had increased adjusted 205-day weaning weights, pre-breeding weights and weights at pregnancy diagnosis, as well as improved pregnancy rates, compared to heifers from non-supplemented dams.
  • First-trimester nutrition:
    • For fall-calving herds: Research shows that early fetal development (or “fetal programming”) can be negatively affected by poor maternal nutrition, whether the diet is lacking in protein, energy or minerals. This will potentially affect future muscle development (leading to reduced carcass weight at slaughter) and may lead to reduced follicles in females (resulting in reduced longevity in the herd and potentially reduced conception rates) and the altered development of internal organs, leading to a reduction in overall health and development (i.e., calves that could be “poor doers”). 
  • Failure of passive transfer, or FPT (refer to “Colostrum for beef calves by Jill Peine”):
    • Good or poor nutrition can greatly impact the quality of the colostrum, as well as late-gestation fetal development. Poor nutrition will result in less-than-optimal birth weight, increased death loss and failure of passive transfer (FPT), or the inability of the newborn to absorb the immunoglobulins needed to stave off bacterial invasion in the gut. Dystocia and cold stress, either of which can weaken the newborn, can also result in FPT.

In recognizing the negative impacts that inadequate nutrition can have on our cow herds, whether in early or late gestation, we highly recommend staying the course by feeding a balanced program, even when feed prices are high. Sacrificing good nutrition in the short term can have long-term implications, so be careful about looking for “cheap feeds” and “great deals”! According to projections, we have entered the upward phase of the cattle cycle, so building the foundation of your herd’s genetic capacity now will reap additional economic benefits as cattle hit their prime years. 

Now, more than ever, CRYSTALYX® is extremely valuable in a winter-feeding program. Referring to the chart included above that outlined increases in grain prices, if 2 pounds of corn distillers grain is being fed per day as a protein and/or energy source, an $80-per-ton increase amounts to $0.08 per head per day. With recent CRYSTALYX increases, in which a $20–30-per-ton increase is more typical, this amounts to around a penny a day more, at ¾ of a pound of intake per day. CRYSTALYX also provides improved forage digestibility from protein and energy for better ruminal efficiency and a complete mineral/vitamin package.

When looking at alternative feed sources, what might be included in the “hidden” costs? Do you need to fix up a building to accommodate a commodity? What is the “shrink” due to moisture damage, rodent “robbing” or losses due to wind? There will almost always be extra labor, time and equipment involved in the feeding of commodities. CRYSTALYX products are tried and true and will perform with great predictability. Labor is minimal, as these blocks can be fed every 1 to 3 weeks and are available 24/7 so that everyone in the herd can get their turn at the “trough”. CRYSTALYX blocks are extremely weather-resistant, so losses due to outside conditions or rodents are negligible. Blocks can be purchased on a “buy-as-you-need” basis, so they do not require a large outlay of capital at one time. For storage, they require just enough space for one or a few pallets.

Perhaps most importantly, CRYSTALYX products are based on years of research and producer experience. Mark Robbins, director of research and nutrition at CRYSTALYX, wrote a blog last month, titled “The long history of CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements,” detailing the four-decade development of our blocks while also sharing the progress on our current research and development. So, as we hit the late-gestation period for many cow herds, consider the balanced, predictable, research-based nutrition provided with by CRYSTALYX products. 

Which CRYSTALYX products are most appropriate now, in late January/early February?

If you live in the colder areas of the country, where there is plenty of winter left and hay is the primary forage, a protein supplement such as BGF-20™ or BGF-30™  is appropriate. In warmer parts of the country, if your herd is within 30 to 45 days of calving, you may want to switch to a CRYSTALYX Breed-Up® or Blueprint® program to provide enhanced levels of bioavailable trace minerals to the late-gestation cow or heifer. If hay quality is poor and a higher-intake option is needed in order to provide a little extra protein, consider the CrystalBlox™ Blueprint® 20% or CrystalBlox™ Blueprint® 30% protein blocks. Consult with your local CRYSTALYX dealer or sales rep for the program that best fits the needs of your herd. With CRYSTALYX, performance is served!