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How can CRYSTALYX help cow-calf producers in a drought?

Most of the Western U.S. and parts of Western Canada are deep into a drought this summer. When the map below of the U.S. Drought Monitor for the week of July 27, 2021, was released, an addendum noted that the data showed that, as of that week, “the highest percentage of the U.S. is in an extreme/exceptional drought since the data series began in 2000”. While the drought of 2012 hit the Corn Belt much more widely, this drought is creeping into the northwest corner of the Corn Belt, and commodity pricing is reflecting the uncertainty many are feeling as a result.

So, what does CRYSTALYX® have to do with a drought?

Old research

We have known for years that cattle seek out palatable supplements — and even salt — in pastures. Research conducted by Dr. Derek Bailey in Havre, Montana, over 20 years ago quantified this effect. Additionally, we have seen that low-moisture block (LMB) supplements like CRYSTALYX are much more effective than salt alone at luring cattle to underutilized areas of pastures.

The two graphics below show the difference between the attractiveness of salt and CRYSTALYX. The data on each graphic came from the same cow, #6069, yet the areas of the pasture that she preferred to graze differed greatly depending on whether salt alone was available or if both CRYSTALYX and salt were available (as most CRYSTALYX products do not contain salt). The pink and turquoise dots show the cow’s location every 15 minutes for 10 days.

Research conducted at Kansas State University (KSU) has also quantified the impact of CRYSTALYX on low-quality forages. Both the intake and digestibility of the dry matter and neutral detergent fiber (NDF) in low-quality forages increased. This is notable because, in periods of drought, the only forage available will likely be very low-quality. Animals grazing or feeding underperforming crops and crop residue is also a possibility, and that is also likely to be a low-quality forage. 

The graph below illustrates the negative associative effects of feeding energy (i.e., starch in corn) with a low-quality forage versus feeding protein (in this case, via CRYSTALYX® BGF-30™), which has a positive associative effect.

That gives us two main points to remember:

During periods of drought (or when grasses naturally mature, in late summer), CRYSTALYX supplements can offer you two distinct advantages:

  1. CRYSTALYX can increase the digestibility (or energy release) of a low-quality (i.e., drought-stricken) forage. Some would call this stretching your forage. Two trials conducted at KSU in the 1990s showed a 10% increase in dry matter digestibility on low-quality (6% CP) forage.
  2. CRYSTALYX will lure your cattle to the underutilized (forage) areas of a pasture, where they may not normally travel due to a potential lack of water, less desirable forages or rougher, more vertical terrain. Several trials at Montana State University have shown that providing CRYSTALYX in underutilized pastures can increase forage utilization by 15% every two weeks. This is within a 600-yard radius (or 233 acres) of the supplement.

Are your pastures short on drinking water?

During periods of drought, naturally occurring sources of water may dry up. This can leave many pastures with areas that cattle avoid due to the lack of water. Research has shown that cattle will travel over a mile from a water source to consume CRYSTALYX — and while the cattle are there, they will also graze on the adjacent forage.

The “one-two punch”

CRYSTALYX will draw your cattle to underutilized areas of the pasture, and once they are there, the added protein included in CRYSTALYX supplements will allow those cattle to unlock even more energy from the forage they consume. This one-two punch helps your cattle maximize the forage available to them in a drought. It may not keep you from having to purchase hay, but it could decrease how much hay you need to purchase. 

What if you do purchase hay?

If you do have to purchase hay, do not forget to also use CRYSTALYX supplements to stretch that forage resource even further. If you can increase forage digestibility by 10%, keep in mind that 10% of $200 of hay will always be more than 10% of $100 hay. Don’t let yourself fall into the idea that your hay costs too much to also purchase a supplement. If your hay costs more, the return on your investment due to better utilization by cattle will also increase.

CRYSTALYX Brand self-fed supplements are an excellent way to maximize your return from a supplement program that’s available 24/7 while also minimizing your investment in time, labor and equipment.