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Getting a return on investment: What self-fed supplements provide

We have entered into the new year and preparing for tax season is one item we will be doing. The questions we often ask is, “Will I get a return?” That same question is often in the back of our mind when we purchase supplements for the cow herd. Supplementation of forages, especially lower quality forage with a protein and carbohydrate supplement, provides a return in improving forage utilization which often stretches your available forage supply and eliminates the need for purchasing hay. The improved digestibility helps maintain the cow’s body condition which will impact reproductive performance. CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements offer a selection of various protein formulations to match a variety of forage quality and most formulations will provide all the needed mineral and vitamins.

Showing a financial return on investment is all about cow reproductive performance and selling more pounds of calves. A tool that is available to help ranchers see the return in animal performance is the CRYSTALYX® Beef Cow Body Condition Score (BCS) App. The goal is to have cows in a BCS of 5 or 6 at calving and breeding time for optimal pregnancy rates. The BCS App provides a pictorial record of individual cow body condition scores which can be summarized by pasture and downloaded in a spreadsheet format. 

A measurable return on investment with a good supplement program is having a shorter calving season and more calves born in the first 21 and 42 days of the calving season. A basic record system is needed to show changes over time. Measuring reproductive performance has a long time frame and good evaluation is more than looking at overall pregnancy rate. The dairy industry uses a concept of pregnancy rate which looks at how fast cows become pregnant. Below I will layout a calving calendar to track reproductive performance in a cow calf system that provides more detail about pregnancy rate. 

A pregnancy rate calendar begins on the day of the first calf being born. This will be Day 1.

  1. Make columns of 21 days
  2. Record the cow number(s) on the day she calves
  3. Continue this record system in 21 day increments for the entire calving season


At the bottom of each 21 day column you will total the number of animals that calved in this period. Divide that number by the total number of animals in the herd. This will give you the percent of animals calving in that period. 

Maintain this year’s calving calendar and compare it to previous and future calving calendars to measure how the herd’s reproductive performance has change.

Calculating a reproductive return on investment can be performed by comparing different years. We need to make an assumption related to calf weight and average daily gain. We assume a calf born in a later period will be 42 lbs. lighter than the previous period and the impact is additive for later born calves. If we apply a value to the lost weight we can then calculate the potential revenue lost.  If we have made improvements in having more animals born earlier, we can calculate an income improvement or loss if performance has declined. Below is an example with a comparison to the prior year using a 50 cow herd.

This example shows a $914 return based on improved weaning weight. A shorter calving season will result in a more uniform group of cattle at the time of marketing which often results in a better price per pound for the whole group. In year 1 there were 10 head that weighed 126 lb. less on average. That many smaller animals in a group may make buyers think there could be health or performance issues that justify a lower price. 

We all want to get a return on our investment. CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements are an investment that provides a return in more pounds of calves sold through better forage utilization, maintaining cow body condition and a consistent predictable delivery of minerals and vitamins. Recording and tracking reproductive performance is an excellent way to see the return and benefit of your supplement investment.