Tom Martin: On the last episode of Beyond the Barrel, we talked with Jon Albro and Brayden Hawkins about the current blog and podcast series that shines a light on the different ways that Crystalyx® still pencils out. Today, we are continuing this conversation as we explore the foundation for reproductive success as well as the ways a proper summer mineral program offers return on investment. So, Harrison, I’d like to start with you, if I may, and ask you to tell us about the body conditioning score: what is it, how do you track it, and what are its advantages for cattlemen?
Harrison: Yeah, Tom, that’s a great question and I like the way that you said setting the stage for success because in our opinion, body condition score is really the foundation for success of a cow herd, especially on the reproductive performance side.
So, body condition score, or BCS, as you’ll see it a lot, is the evaluation of the overall breeding condition or flesh of a cow. It’s based on a 9-point scale. 1 is extremely, extremely thin and skinny, and 9 is the exact opposite, extremely, extremely obese.
The way that we track it is pretty simple. You track it with your eyes. I like to evaluate it by starting looking at the brisket. I go back over the ribs, hook bones, and tail head just to see how smooth or how fat they are in those areas.
If you’re not very comfortable with that, though, we at Crystalyx have put together a great app that helps you determine the body condition score of the cow. You simply just take a picture and then we’ve got each kind of ideal of 1 through 9 labeled there, and you can compare it to the reference photo that we have in the app, so you feel a little bit more confident how you’re gauging the body condition score of your herd.
Tom Martin: Can you get that app from the App Store?
Harrison: Yes, sir. You can get it on the App Store and the Android store as well.
Tom Martin: What are the advantages of BCS to the cattleman?
Harrison: No matter if it’s a mature cow, if it’s a heifer, even if it’s a bull, it affects this year’s and next year’s calf crops. Cows that are way too fat have a hard time getting bred, and then, cattle that are extremely, extremely thin are slow to rebreed, produce less colostrum, may not give enough milk to the calves on their side, which really doesn’t allow us to have a profitable calf crop for that year.
Tom Martin: So, Mark, let’s bring you into this. Does every rancher track body condition score?
Mark: Thanks, Tom.
You know, I think most ranchers do. It’s going to be varying levels of how much time he puts into it. As Harrison mentioned, we’ve got that body condition score app that Crystalyx has that will give you a real easy way to just take pictures of your cattle at different times of the year. And if you do the same cows, then you can actually see what she looked like two, three, four, six, eight months ago versus today and can track whether she’s gaining or losing any condition. And that’s all very important.
Harrison had some information in his blog that showed us that you want to really be at a body condition score of 5 or 5½ up to a 6 at calving, so that your cows will breed back better.
You can monitor body condition for a weaning time as well. I think calving is the place most people go today to make sure they’ve got them conditioned.
If you’re in a body condition score 5 to 6, you’re going to be in that 85% to 95% conception rate. There’s a lot of data out there, depending on where you go, on what you look at. If you drop down to, say, a body condition score of 4, some of the data shows your pregnancy rate could drop from 86 down to 61. There’s 25 calves for every 100 cows you got. Harrison didn’t work on that. You know, the return on your investment there is tremendous if you can feed enough energy to keep those cows in a body condition score of 5 or above.
Tom Martin: Well, this sounds like a great example of how digital technology is making a real difference.
Mark: Absolutely. Harrison, you’ve probably used that body condition score app quite a bit. I think it’s fairly easy to use.
Harrison: Oh, absolutely. It’s real simple, you just take a picture and then it stores it into your phone there and you can even label with a herd ID of tattoo or tag. You could put it in a certain pasture, so you can keep it really organized. It’s very, very user friendly.
Tom Martin: Well, let’s turn to another subject here: Blueprint®. Mark, I want to ask you about this. What is Blueprint, first of all, and then, what makes it unique? What does it do? How does it do it?
Mark: Blueprint is a program that we’ve had out for several years now. Most basically, it’s an all-organic trace mineral program with some additional Alltech technologies rolled into the formula.
When you look at that organic trace mineral profile, the fact is that we use 100% Bioplex organic trace minerals and we use them at a lower rate than is what is typically seen out there.
Alltech’s research over the years has found that we can go in at about two thirds of the NRC with all Bioplex organic trace minerals and increase the performance of cattle over what people have seen on typical inorganic trace mineral programs that may have 100% of NRC, 200% of NRC or even higher.
Many times, people go at the higher levels of NRC with inorganic trace minerals in an attempt to overcome antagonists in the forage, in the soil. Antagonists are things like iron, molybdenum and sulfates. They interact with inorganic trace minerals and reduce their availability.
Now, Bioplex organic trace minerals, they do much less impact by those antagonists. We probably almost want to sound the alarm, but there may be a little bit there. That’s why we’re able to come in with Blueprint, that’s 100% organic trace minerals at the level of NRC, and greatly improve the performance of cattle. So, that’s really what it is.
What does it do? You know, I think in Harrison’s article there was a mention of the three things that we generally see. We see more calves, we have better conception rates, we have heavier cows, we’re seeing about a 24-lb. increase in weaning weight, and we have healthy calves. We’ve had about a 2% drop in pre-weaning death loss. If you add those all together, you get about an 8-to-1 return on investment.
Now, what Blueprint is going to cost you, if you’re on a typical inorganic mineral program right now today, it will cost you from 2 to 4 cents per head per day, a little less if you’re on a mineral program. If you’re on a Crystalyx protein product that time, that’s going to be closer to that 4 cents. But, even if you pay 4 cents a head a day, that’s only about $50 a year, and the increase in weaning weight alone, of 24 lb., is going to pay for that. Not to mention the fact that you’ve got more of those calves and they’re healthier as well.
There are also great impacts on the mother as well as you have earlier return to cycling, shortening the postpartum interval. The data we have shows that heifers actually became pregnant 18 days earlier; that’s pretty significant when you consider that a calf gains about 2 lb. a day. Those heifers would be about 40 lb. heavier in the fall. With today’s calf prices, there’s a $100 bill right there.
Tom Martin: So, ranchers can see actual, practical results from using this, right?
Harrison: Yeah, Tom. I work with a couple of ranchers down here that have switched over to Blueprint. Not only do the ones who track their records see the massive impact that it has on weaning rates and conception rates, but honestly, we’ve also had some that have just seen overall physical appearance of their herd better. They think their cattle are slicking off and look healthier. They think their hair coat looks higher quality. And the guys who are setting up for embryo and artificial insemination protocols, they think the heats that they’ve had have been as strong as ever when their cattle have been on the Blueprint program.
Tom Martin: Okay. Let’s turn to fly control, and, Mark, stick with you for a moment. How big a problem is fly control in a beef herd?
Mark: If you look at the industry statistics, they claim that the nuisance fly has cost the cattle industry about a billion dollars a year. That’s billion with a b. If you look at just probably 100 million cattle in the U.S. herd for beef cattle, and you throw dairy cattle and calves and all that in there, that comes out to $10 a head right there.
If you look at some research that people have done on the negative impact of flies on beef calves, they’re going to tell you that you may see a 4% to 15% drop in weaning weights due to those flies. That’s pretty significant. If you just take a number in the middle, maybe say a 10% drop of a 600-lb. calf, you’re looking at 60 lb. there. Today, that’s worth about $103.
Now, fly control is actually one of the cheaper management systems you can add to your summer mineral program. Most fly control agents are going to cost you 2 to 2½ cents a day. That’s only about $4 for 150 days through the summer. And, as I said, we’re going to probably save if you could possibly lose 10% of your weight gains, worth $150. So the return on investment there for something that’s fairly easy just to add to your summer mineral program.
Tom Martin: Harrison, back to you and this question: How do ranchers typically deal with flies? What are their options for controlling fly populations?
Harrison: Looking at the way that most ranchers attack flies down here in my area — and I’d say it’s pretty nationwide — is they either use fly tags, fly sprays, or feed through fly control. I think those are, by far, the three most popular ones that you have.
But of those three, in my opinion, feed-through is by far the easiest to use and can have the most long-term success if it’s done properly. You can utilize, like Mark said, a feed-through fly control by putting it into a textured or pelleted feed, a loose mineral or a low-moisture box product like Crystalyx, and that’s what’s really, really unique about it.
On our Crystalyx line, it’s got three different fly control options. We do utilize Altosid®, which is an insect growth regulator that’s focused on the control of horn flies.
We also use ClariFly®, an insect growth regulator that helps with the control of horn, house, face and stable flies. And then we have some products that use garlic as an insect repellent but do not actually break the flies’ life cycle.
What I really like about the Crystalyx route is that the fly control is with the herd 24/7. Once you roll that barrel out that has a fly control in it, and they have access to it all the time, and cattle really like the way the Crystalyx tastes and their palatability.
We’ve actually done research that shows that cattle visit our Crystalyx barrel much more frequently than they do even a conventional dry loose mineral. The best way for the fly control to work is for the cattle to consume it, and if they’re going to have a Crystalyx barrel up there, 9 times out of 10 they’re going to go eat it.
Mark: The other thing that we really like about the fly control, if you look at things like pinkeye, they’re actually a vector for pinkeye, is the face fly. And if you use the Crystalyx products that have ClariFly, you actually get control of four flies, of course: the horn fly, the face fly, house fly and stable fly. That face fly is known to be a vector for pinkeye, and I know we do get feedback from some of our customers talking about having less pinkeye when they’ve actually used a fly control product.
Tom Martin: Let’s turn to yet another product, Iono-lyx. Mark, if you could tell us, what is Iono-lyx and what makes it unique?
Mark: Well, Iono-lyx is a Crystalyx formula that has Bovatec® in it. Bovatec is an ionophore similar to Rumensin®. Ionophores modify the flora of the rumen to move more towards a propionic fermentation, or a more efficient fermentation, of forages and feeds.
The unique part of Iono-lyx is, it’s the only low-moisture block available that has an ionophore or a medicated feed additive like that. We first received approval for that in 2004, and that’s 19 years ago. Since then, there have not been any additional FA free-choice medicated blocks made available. And in fact, if you go before Iono-lyx, you got to go back just about into the 80s before any were approved before that, so it is very unique.
It is generally intended for feeding on lower quality forage through the fall. It’s very good for after you wean calves to turn them back out on some grass if you’re going to background them. It’s great for developing heifers through the wintertime, but it does have some application in the summer as well. It will cost you about 50 cents a day to feed Iono-lyx. If you’re on lush grass, you’re going to get about 80 cents back for that in increased average daily gains that you can see.
The nice thing is, as you have that out in the summer, and depending on how much rain you have or don’t have, as the forages begin to mature and their crude protein content begins to drop, the 28% protein in Iono-lyx actually starts to kick in and give you increased gains. At that point, you increase your return on investment there on 50 cents. It can be $1.20 a day in situations where your forage quality is drying.
Tom Martin: Is it for mature cows?
Mark: Good point there, Tom. The Iono-lyx is only cleared for stocker cattle and placement heifers. So it’s not a mature cow product. It does have a clearance for weaned calves through the stocker phase. You could use it with your replaced heifers up until they calve, and at that point we technically call them a cow or a mature animal, and then it’s not labeled for them anymore.
Tom Martin: Okay. Harrison, return on investment (ROI) has come up repeatedly during our conversation. Can you tell us why ROI has been emphasized so greatly in the recent blogs and podcasts that we’ve been doing?
Harrison: We did have a Crystalyx comment that caught our attention on our Facebook page, just talking about how our barrels have gotten high and the rancher said he couldn’t afford to feed them anymore.
And so, when we saw that and really stepped back and said, yes, we understand that our products have gone up, but so has everything else in the industry, and we are still just trying to circle back around and make people realize that utilizing a Crystalyx product is actually going to help your return on investment, increase the profitability of your cow herd there.
And that’s why we’re trying to do this, because I don’t think anybody is in the business to lose money, nobody likes to do that for fun! And that’s why we made such a big push on showing how Crystalyx can keep you profitable in this livestock industry.
Tom Martin: Mark, how is ROI calculated and why is that important?
Mark: Return on investment: so, when you have an opportunity to spend $20 on something and the return you receive from that is $40, we call it 2-to-1. So, you basically double your money at 2-to-1. And the nice thing about this in the cattle industry, a lot of these nutritional opportunities we’re talking about here, you’re going to see that return in less than a year. If you think about investing money and making — you know, the stock market does something like 12%, 13% on the average, you know. That takes a year to get over 13%. Here, we’re talking about these ROIs that are 1.6 — 2-to-1, 3-to-1 in less than a year. It’s much better than you can do investing your money in the stock market.
So that’s what we’re trying to demonstrate here with our blogs and these podcasts throughout the summer, is that Crystalyx still does pencil out. It pencils out very well today, especially when you look at the calf prices that we’re seeing here now. We’ve got historic calf prices, stock cattle prices. Very profitable time to be in the business, and certainly a time that these short-term investments in an improved nutrition program have a tremendous return on the money that you do invest.
Harrison: A lot of times, at least some of the things I hear in my area are, “This calf market is good, maybe we can hold off and not have to put as much into these things and try to increase our bottom line that way.” When I think we really need to make sure we do the opposite, and not skimp it, and try to get as much out of these cattle and get as much gain and performance as we can, to really take advantage of this booming market.
Mark: You know, you’re right, Harrison. Years ago, we had a Crystalyx campaign and it was kind of an electronic calculator or a cash machine on the side of a cow, and we called it the cash cow, and the slogan was, you can’t starve the profit out of a cow, You do have to put a certain amount of money in them every year to get an advantage out of the genetics that you pay for, that you build.
It all comes down to that ROI. If you spend, like we said, on the fly control, if you spend 2 to 2½ cents a day and it ends up being $4 throughout the whole summer, but yet you see a $100, $150 return, it’s just a tremendous of money that you make on a very small investment.
And, you know, you have healthier calves, they grew back better, the mothers breed back better. Those calves that are on the summer mineral program, they’re going to respond better in the fall to, you know, respiratory treatments to their vaccines that you give them. There’s just a lot of reasons that you want to cap a good, solid mineral program through the summer and in fall.
Tom Martin: Let’s talk about how supplements are delivered to the herd. Beginning with you, Mark: Why should ranchers consider a self-fed supplement over a hand-fed supplement?
Mark: You know, Tom, you look at today, where we’ve had skyrocketing inflation, so the cost of your labor, not to mention the ability to find labor on ranches and farms anymore, your equipment cost, those have all increased and they continue to increase.
The overwhelming point behind self-fed supplements that you absolutely minimize your investment in time, labor and equipment. And, you know, sometimes if you want to invest in those, you still may not be able to; like I mentioned, it’s hard to find people that want to work on farms and ranches anymore.
And the self-fed supplements help you a lot there. It allows you to put out a set of Crystalyx barrels. If they’re protein barrels, they’re going to last about two weeks at a time. The mineral supplements last about three weeks at a time. That’s a very small amount of labor to provide that 24/7 nutrition that’s very important for all the reasons we just mentioned.
Self-fed supplements look a little higher in cost per ton than some of the hand-fed supplements, but that’s because the feeding of them is already built in. You buy them and you set them out and you’re done with it.
Many people, when they look at hand-fed supplements, they just look at the cost of the supplement itself, but they don’t include what it’s going to cost now to put that out every other day or three days a week or however often you need to start up a tractor or a truck, put somebody in that vehicle, go out there and deliver it. That can equal almost, at times, the cost of the supplement itself. So self-fed supplements are just very economical to use, and they make you to be much more productive with your time.
Tom Martin: Harrison, what are you hearing from your customers? Do they lean more toward hand-fed or self-fed?
Harrison: Down in my market area, I still see quite a bit of hand-fed supplements are being used. I mean, protein tube hoppers with flatbed trucks are very popular in my area. And I think the main reason that it is such a popular option is because, like Mark said, that initial sticker cost of price per ton, that’s what people are wrapping their heads around, and they don’t pencil in the extra cost of fuel, labor, time, etc.
And that’s why we continue to cut into the hand-fed market every year with our self-fed supplements. I’d say it’s probably a 60/40 split down here. They’ve got a little bit higher [leanage] towards the hand-fed supplements, but we try to make that push every year.
And once people make it over and see that we can feed these cows without having to be there all the time, and get as good if not better performance out of them, they’re hooked and they’re on it forever.
Another really cool advantage that we have in the self-fed supplement line, especially on the Crystalyx, is the BioBarrel®. Some of our large ranches that are on the BioBarrel have even noticed that you can see how much barrel is left from a far distance away, and they could save fuel and time in checking barrels by utilizing something like the BioBarrel. Then they don’t have to go back and pick it up afterwards. It’s a feed-and-forget situation there.
Tom Martin: Well, Harrison, the projections are for a pretty hot summer ahead, and I’m just wondering: do the cattle need protein supplemented in the summer months, especially when it’s hot like this?
Harrison: This spring, thankfully — last year was really, really rough. It was a bad drought season; it was hot. It was about as rough as I can remember for the feed industry and the cattle industry in general.
Then, starting off this spring, we were blessed down here in Texas with really good rains, and grass was starting to green up, and we had some standing forage in our pasture for the first time that — felt like in 15, 18 months. And so producers kind of took a breath of relief there, and we’re really fortunate and thankful to have that grass.
But for the last three weeks, it’s been 100+ degrees every day, and the grass is really starting to turn. When the grass is green, you might not need a protein supplement down here, but as the grass starts to turn and the protein levels of that grass start to get lower, it’s probably not a bad idea to roll out a protein barrel here pretty quick to get as much out of the forage that your ground has given you naturally. And so, I think with this heat that’s coming up and the way it’s starting to go, if we don’t get a rain pretty soon, we might start supplementing protein.
Tom Martin: All right. That’s Harrison Smith and Mark Robbins from Ridley Block Operations. We thank you both for joining us on this episode of our Beyond the Barrel podcast series.
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