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Cost and effectiveness: Free-choice supplements managed correctly

There’s always been a lot of attention to supplement cost.  Some will argue it’s more true now than ever with higher input cost for beef production, but I don’t recall a time ever in the past when feed and supplement cost was NOT a factor.  Earlier bog topics the past several months by my colleagues and I have addressed many cost and value topics pertaining to feed and beef production.

The cost per ton or other unit of a supplement is only the starting point in figuring true cost.Proper supplement management will affect cost.  Way too often we in the feed industry witness or hear of producers who purchase what they think is a good deal, only to realize later that what they’ve really purchased failed to meet their needs.  Sadly, this usually results in improper or incorrect use of a supplement; which in the end is simply a waste of money. Below are common errors or misconceptions that may be seen with managing free-choice supplements.

  1. Improper number of free-choice feeding stations in place
    • Not enough blocks, mineral feeders, containers (lick barrels/tubs etc.), placed for the number of head being fed.  For example, if you are using Crystalyx® barrels, a common barrel to animal ratio is 1 barrel for every 20-30 head of cattle.  If one barrel is placed for 250 head, there’s going to be a large number of animals that do not get adequate access to the supplement.
    •  Too many feeding installations are used.  In this case, too much consumption may be experienced.
  2. Location(s) of free-choice supplements and distance between blocks and/or tubs.
    • It’s generally accepted that supplements can be placed near water and loafing areas, this will help animals acclimate and find the supplement.Some labeling does however recommend that supplements can be fed farther from these areas to help spread or distribute grazing or to influence consumption.Ridley Block Operations has extensive research showing how Crystalyx® can be effectively used to lure cattle to underutilized pasture areas, thus improving grazing distribution and overall economics of feeding.
    • Put some distance between supplement placements.Often times I see numerous blocks/tubs being placed nearly side by side.This can cause crowding by the animals, trampling of the ground and ultimately lead to variable intake.  Put some distance between blocks and tubs.  This is easy to do when feeding on pasture.  Small pressed blocks require at least 10’ between them while large tubs/barrels can be spread at distances over 300’.


      Crystalyx® Barrels placed in a pasture grazing situation. Note the “baseball diamond pattern” of supplement placement

  3. Failing to check or running out of supplement
    • It’s important to know your intake of supplement and gauge it accordingly.  Having empty feeders for any period of time means most animals are not consuming supplement at regular intervals.  Animal behavior, environmental and geographic influence, may also describe supplement intake variance.But don’t add to this by simply not monitoring intakes and placing supplement when needed.For some help in this area, visit the Crystalyx® Supplement scheduler at www.crystalyx.com/scheduler/.By entering a time frame of supplementation, estimated consumption and Crystalyx® product selection, this tool will send you e-mail reminders as to when it is time to be placing supplement again.
  4.   Waste and Weatherability
    • All free-choice supplements are not created equally.Some need to be fed in weather proof containers (some mineral and salt supplements), while others are more weatherized and hold up very well to the elements.  Be prepared for weather as a poorly weatherized program will lead to supplement waste, poor palatability, etc.., ultimately impacting supplement cost and performance.

Good Supplement management should not be overlooked. Improperly managed free-choice supplements are usually inconvenient, don’t perform and are simply a waste of money.It may be better (cost wise) to forgo supplementation vs. having a program that is implemented incorrectly.  Ridley Block Operations, the manufactures of Crystalyx® brand supplements, takes pride in having effective free-choice supplement programs that are easy to manage, predictably consumed, and cost effective.