Consistent nutrient intake in beef and dairy cattle

May 20, 2019

Balancing diets at average DMI meets the animal’s needs much of the time for macro nutrients like protein and energy, however it falls short for trace minerals and vitamins and some feed additives. Tim Clark discusses how to fill in the gap in critical times during the production cycle.


Tom:                           I’m Tom Martin, and we’re joined by Tim Clark, a nutritionist with CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements.

                                    Thanks for joining us, Tim.

Tim:                             Thank you, Tom.

Tom:                           So, we’re talking today about consistent nutrient intake in beef and dairy cattle. First, can you explain why exactly consistent nutrient intake is so important?

Tim:                             It’s all about delivering the nutrients with the additives that we’re wanting to deliver to the animals on a consistent basis. A lot of nutrients, whether [they are] minerals or vitamins, are needed every day in small amounts. Some are stored in the body, some are not. Vitamins are not really stored and, with the minerals that are stored, it takes some time to pull those out, so it’s really critical that they have a consistent supply every day.


Tom:                           Can you explain a bit about how nutritionists balance diets and formulate products?

Tim:                             Really what we have to work with is not a really good number, but it’s the best number we’ve got that’s an average feed intake or average dry matter intake. [If] we’re balancing a diet we have to assume that this group of cattle is going to be eating 30 lbs. or, if we’re balancing a product like a mineral, we assume that, on average, they’re going to consume 4 ounces.

                                    You pick whatever number it is for the group for the product, but that average means that, numerically, half those animals are eating less than what we balance for, so they’re getting less than our target nutrient delivery just due to fact that average is the best number we have. We could over-fortify, but that gets pretty expensive and really is not good for the cattle or the environment.

Related: Goodbye winter, hello heat stress: Tips on keeping cattle comfortable

Tom:                           Well, when we’re talking about averages, as you mentioned, are there any risks associated with formulating that way?

Tim:                             Yeah, there are. There are going to be different factors that will change what an animal is eating; everything from the state that she’s in or [her] calf especially for beef cattle and dairy cattle around the time of calving that’s when their dry matter intake is going to be most variable. We’ll see differences within 10 lbs. from one animal in the group to the next.

                                    On average, we get that 30 lbs., but we may have some animals consuming 20 lbs. or less, and that makes a big difference especially on the vitamins and trace minerals.

Tom:                           What about feed additives? How important is intake of certain feed additives and how does the average problem impact consistent delivery?

Tim:                             Additives are like the trace minerals; we’re trying to get a pretty small amount across the whole herd, in every animal. If you’re looking at feeding a yeast product or, especially this time of year, we think about fly control. And for the feed-through fly control products to work, animals need to consume [a certain amount] every day to have the correct amount for fly control in their manure.

                                    The trace minerals and vitamins are especially critical during certain stressful times, such as calving, transition and moving animals. And when you’re talking about trace minerals, it kind of gets to be a little bit of a numbers game. We’re talking about pretty small amounts. Let’s assume that we balance that diet for 20 lbs. and in that 20 lbs. the cow is going to get her 10 parts per million (ppm) of copper. Well, when she’s eating [only] half of what we balance the average for, she’s only getting 5 [ppm]. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but one part per million is equivalent to one car in a line of traffic from Cleveland to San Francisco. So, we’re talking about pretty small amounts where being just off a little has a huge impact.

Tom:                           Are there any common feed items that struggle with consistency across the whole herd?

Tim:                             [Yes, for] two reasons, especially when we’re looking at products like free choice minerals, which we do [offer]. We manage that intake by using salt as both an attractant and a limiter to get that average 4-ounce intake on a free choice loose mineral. But the challenge there is that forage quality can change, [as well as] intakes, and there may be times when the cows don’t come to the mineral feeder for two or three days and, then, for whatever reason, they may not be hitting that 4 ounces. So, for three or four days we’re missing our target on minerals, vitamins and those additives that we talked about.

Tom:                           What about dairy cattle rations and starting rations in the beef feed line? I thought the concept of a total mixed ration or TMR was that everything the animal needs is in there?

Tim:                             That is the concept of a TMR that every bite is the same. We still go back to that average problem; that TMR was balanced on an average feed intake or dry matter intake. For cows, once they are several weeks into lactation, it’s not a problem, whether it’s beef or dairy. The issue comes around that critical 30 to 40 days, around the time of calving because intake is so variable and, biologically, the cow is going to drop intake for three or four days before calving and it takes a week or so after calving to get back up to average again. So, we know there is built-in variation just due to biology.

Tom:                           Which group or category of animals are most impacted by the TMR safety net?

Tim:                             Well, the TMR safety net really comes into play for those dry cows because their intake is so much lower to begin with and then what we call transition cows, thirty days prior to calving to thirty days after. It’s all about getting the animals off to a good start for their next lactation and that’s where being off a little can have a big impact.

Where the CRYSTALYX comes in is, they’re eating the ration maybe not up to target levels yet but consuming a small amount of our supplements can help fill in that gap during that critical time. Some of the critical trace minerals, like copper, selenium and [certain] vitamins are real critical for uterine health getting the reproductive tract back in condition so we can get the animals bred back.

                                    And then, the other groups, whether it’s beef or dairy, is calves at the time of weaning, just because that’s a physiological and social change where intake can be very variable.

Tom:                           What CRYSTALYX products are designed with this TMR safety net in mind?

Tim:                             Most of the dairy products are, because a lot of those are designed for  dry cows or cows around the time of calving. We can see some pretty moderate to high level of fortification in those to make sure that we’re delivering an adequate amount in that small intake. And then, you look at any of our stress products on the beef side, whether it’s Battalion® or Brigade®. Those are designed for calves during shipping, weaning and receiving. Again, quite nutrient-dense, but, again, we’re trying to make up that gap that we’re missing with the TMR through this TMR safety net and to an extent our Breed-Up® product line fits that a bit. We know that those are used before and after calving and the beef herds when feeding situations and nutrient demands are high and we got some variable intakes with the cattle.

Tom:                           Tim Clark is a nutritionist with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements, and we thank you, Tim.

Tim:                             Thank you, I appreciate it.


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