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Why should you buy a nutritional supplement for beef cattle?

Commodity prices have been increasing in cost since last September. While many of us are hoping for good news (i.e., rain) during the spring planting season, commodity prices are still inching higher as I write this in early-May.

Anytime something gets more expensive over a short period of time, we naturally re-evaluate its value before our next purchase. Sometimes, we have no choice but to purchase the goods and then use them more judiciously in the future. For farmers, these goods could include gasoline, diesel, seed, fertilizer, rent and new equipment. For ranchers, they could be items like ear tags, fencing, hay, pasture leases, nutritional supplements, replacement heifers, vaccines and bulls/genetics. Most of these things are pretty hard to do without — but sometimes they get skipped or are severely limited until prices settle down again. What is the true cost of skipping these purchases?

Many of these purchases are interrelated. For instance, it does not make much sense for a farmer to purchase seed if he does not also have the diesel and equipment to plant it. And then comes fertilizer; is that necessary, or can we skip it? Most farmers won’t skip using fertilizer, as it is the finishing touch on making all of those dollars spent on seed and diesel pay off.

Ranchers face a similar situation: It does not make much sense to hold back a bunch of replacement heifers if you do not have the pasture or forage base to run them on. As a nutritionist, I would say that, similarly, it does not make much sense to pay top dollar for genetics if you plan to cut corners on your nutrition program. Veterinarians would echo that sentiment if you plan to use vaccines on cattle whose immune systems are compromised due to low trace mineral and vitamin status.

Just as fertilizer helps the farmer get a better return on the dollars he or she spends on seed, equipment and fuel, nutritional supplements help ranchers get a better return on the dollars they spend on genetics, pasture, hay, replacement heifers and vaccines. Each of those items cost money, and only proper nutrition can make them worth more. Why would we skip that?

Sure, there is an obvious cost to purchasing fertilizer and nutritional supplements — you write the check, and there it is in black and white, fairly easy to calculate — but there is also a cost associated with not using them. And that cost is much harder to calculate, as it lies in the lost performance potential of your crops and animals. 

Nutritional supplements impact many areas of your cow herd’s potential profitability. Most forages will be deficient in some critical nutrient — and oftentimes, in several nutrients. Protein is often limiting. It is possible to supplement protein in a forage diet by using another forage with higher protein, like alfalfa. If you do not have any high-quality (i.e., higher-crude-protein) forages, you may have to purchase supplemental protein. Vitamins and minerals are a little harder to supplement in your herd’s diet by jockeying the different levels of forages you may have on hand. 

If your base forage is short on phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, selenium and/or vitamins A or E, it can have serious consequences for your herd’s reproductive rate, weaning weight and overall health status. While nothing is impossible, it is quite likely that you will need to purchase a mineral and vitamin supplement to correct any shortfall in these critical nutrients. Fortunately, these nutritional supplements often do more than pay for themselves. We calculate this as return on investment (ROI).   

For example, if you wean 100 calves this fall and you purchase three barrels of CRYSTALYX® Brigade® for $500 and you save just one calf from dying during that four-week weaning phase, you will double your investment, which translates to an ROI of 2:1. This is very easy to calculate. However, from all the research we have done studying Brigade, we also know that you could see additional returns for weaned calves, including increased feed intake, feed efficiency and average daily gains. In addition to the reduced mortality used as an example above, you could also see reduced morbidity — that is, fewer calves to pull and treat. While these results are less tangible, they do add to your ROI, and they are advantages that you might not see if you decide to skip making the $500 investment on Brigade. Previous research has shown that your overall ROI on Brigade could be as much as 3:1.

We can use a similar example on your cows this spring and summer. Research shows that correcting the nutritional deficiencies in a cow herd has led to higher conception rates and getting more calves born earlier in the breeding season — all of which will give you more pounds to sell at weaning. Recent research specifically studying our Blueprint® Nutrition program has shown an average increase in weaning weights of 25 pounds per calf versus a traditional inorganic trace mineral program. Based on these results, the Blueprint program alone could have an ROI of 4:1.

Overall, subpar nutrition from the breeding season through calving — i.e., pretty much year-round — can result in fewer cows weaning calves. Various sources have calculated this cost to be between $600 and $750 per open cow or calf lost. Those are big numbers that will contribute to the ROI of your supplement program.

These returns on your investment are still evident, even as supplement costs have increased this year. And there are even more reasons to purchase a nutritional supplement. A gentleman named Jim Pancero once taught us that there are basically four reasons for choosing to buy a product or a service:

  1. The product increases my profitability (ROI).
  2. The product lowers my risk.
  3. The product makes my life easier.
  4. The product gives me a competitive edge.

CRYSTALYX certainly checks all four of these boxes — and CRYSTALYX Blueprint formulas especially deliver an exceptional value on number four. 

Many of the input costs we have talked about here are quite tangible, as you usually get a receipt for them — but there is another input cost that has a very high value for every rancher, and that is the cost of your time or labor. Compared to a hand-fed supplement, self-fed supplements greatly reduce the time and labor you put into supplementing your cow herd. Everyone will have to make their own decisions about the value of their time, but for many of you, I’m guessing that it’s quite high. I wouldn’t skip that one either.

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