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Lowering feed costs while improving weight gain

How much do you enjoy buying grain for your calves on grass? I can hear the many guffaws now on what an ill-advised question that is! We have high expectations for pastured cattle to do what comes naturally and harvest the forage that Mother Nature provides. With spring pastures growing rapidly in the south and soon to explode in more northern climates, we want our pasture cattle to take advantage of this highly nutritious feed.

This year looks to be an excellent time to be in the cow/calf business, assuming drought has not already disrupted your farm or ranch operation. With strong demand for beef around the world and a smaller supply of cattle than we have seen in a few years, prices for calves have been growing over the past several months. Better prices mean potential high profits if you can quickly get your feeder cattle to the finishing stage and start on the next group. Improving efficiency on-farm has been a mantra for years to enhance profitability, as well as help reduce the carbon footprint of our cattle industry. A lot of nutritional research focuses on these areas. Likewise, great strides have been made in genetics over the past 50 years. According to a 2019 USDA report, since 1970, beef production has increased by roughly 25%, while over the same period, the number of cattle used in beef production has fallen by 6% (ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter, May 2019). Certainly, these genetic improvements have resulted in a far more efficient animal than we had 50 years ago. 



Many tools and additives are available for improving feed efficiency in cattle, including implants, yeast in the diet and certain enzymes. Another well-proven technology that helps add more pounds of beef with less feed is the inclusion of ionophores in the diet, which include both Lasalocid (Bovatec) and Monensin (Monovet or Rumensin®). The Penn State publication “Ionophores: A Technology to improve Cattle Efficiency” describes ionophores as:

“a class of antibiotics that are used in cattle production to shift ruminal fermentation patterns. They are not bactericidal (they do not kill the bacteria); they simply inhibit their functionality and ability to reproduce.”

Since they specifically only inhibit the functionality of certain bacteria, ionophores are not in the same category of antibiotics as those requiring a VFD for use.

In the rumen, we know microbes break down feeds to produce volatile fatty acids (VFAs), which provide energy for daily functions. Cattle on a high-forage diet will have a higher level of the VFA acetate and lower levels of the VFA propionate. As we introduce grain into the diet, the microbial population shifts, and we see higher levels of propionate at the expense of acetate. These higher grain diets tend to be more efficient in adding weight gain on less feed. Similarly, this is how Bovatec works, helping to shift the microbial population in favor of producing higher levels of propionate at the expense of acetate producers. Therefore, we see better feed efficiency when it is used in the diet.

As we look at the cost of feed today, improving weight gain on less feed is critical. Bovatec is the leading ionophore used on pasture cattle, and we can typically expect an improvement in average daily gain of around 10%, based on the large number of studies done. While this level can vary depending on different factors, if we target 2 lbs. per day gain, I think anyone would be satisfied with an extra 30 lbs. or so over a five-month grazing period. A recent Cattlefax publication shows spring calf prices in the $1.50–1.65 range for 6–7 cwt. calves, which could translate into an extra $45–50 at sale time while costing less than 2 cents/head/day for including Bovatec. What a return on investment!



So how can we help turn “non-productive” replacement animals into productive cattle sooner or shorten the time to the feedlot for feeders? CRYSTALYX® Iono-lyx® self-fed supplement has been the only FDA-approved low-moisture block containing an FDA-approved ionophore on the market for nearly 20 years. It is preferable to provide ionophores daily, so in talking about efficiency, let’s include “labor, time and equipment efficiency”. The Iono-lyx blue tub only needs to be delivered to the pasture every couple of weeks, is weatherproof and will provide controlled, predictable intake. Also, Bovatec does not have a withdrawal period and does not require a “step-up regimen.” The combination of nutrition in Iono-lyx — providing protein (28%), minerals and vitamins, plus Bovatec — will supplement what may be missing from the forage. In 2020, this formula was improved with the addition of Bioplex® organic trace minerals. The organic forms of copper, zinc, manganese and cobalt are similar to the forms already present in plants, which cattle are better able to absorb, helping them perform at a higher level.

In summary, choose a pasture supplement that will help the efficiency of growth, labor, equipment usage and your time. Visit your local CRYSTALYX dealer to get more information.