Lowering feed costs while improving weight gain

Apr 30, 2022



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ANNOUNCER:               I’m Tom Martin. And back with us is Sam Strahan, nutritionist with Crystalyx® Brand Supplements.

                                    Sam is here to talk with us about bringing down those feed costs while also improving weight gain.

                                    Welcome back, Sam.

Sam:                           Thank you, Tom. It’s good to be with you this morning.

ANNOUNCER:              So, first, what do feed costs look like today? Are they trending to close to what we’re seeing in our food costs in the supermarket?

Sam:                            Yeah, they certainly are, Tom. We’ve seen that over the last several months, where these prices have been increasing significantly, just like you would have seen at the grocery store. Since many of the same grains, as well as minerals and vitamins, are used for both animal production and human foods, we’re just seeing a lot of the same challenges of rising prices. And that would include things like we’re seeing transportation issues, we’re seeing supply chain disruptions, as well as the conflict in Ukraine, which, as you may know, is a large supplier of certain grains in the world market. So, we even heard that the Olympics in China were contributing to such things as vitamin shortages and I’m sure other products because the Chinese government shut down certain industries to improve air quality leading up to and during the games.

ANNOUNCER:              Well, it sounds like if you can bring down some of the feed inputs and improve gains, then you have yourself a winning formula there.

Sam:                            Yeah, we certainly think so. In the livestock sector, we’ve talked about improving efficiency for many years, and especially feed efficiency, which is in the realm of nutrition, which I spend a lot of time working with. Since feed accounts for the largest percentage of input costs on the farm, it doesn’t take much of an improvement to make a big difference at the farm level. We’ve seen great gains in the past 50 years in genetic improvements alone, where we see a lot fewer cattle today can produce far more beef or milk than they did in the 60s or 70s.

                                    In fact, I saw a graph recently which showed that today — back in 2019, this came from — 6% fewer cattle were producing about 25% more beef compared to 1970. So, a lot of this can be attributed to just more efficient genetics that we have to work with today. And researchers are using genetic data to better identify those animals who are able to gain better on less feed, so we expect to continue to see this improvement for future selection of bulls and cows that producers want to breed. Other improvements have come from nutrition programs as we learn more about how cattle digest feeds differently and how we can use certain additives to improve digestibility. One example being the yeast that we use in a lot of diets today.

Also, as nutritionists, we tend to focus heavily on feeding higher quality forage since we know that hay, grass or silage is going to be the major part of the cattle diet for most, if not all, of their lives. Now, today, we continue to use certain compounds discovered decades ago, which were found to help improve gains and efficiencies. One such type is known as ionophores, which would include two products. One called monensin, the other, Bovatec, which help improve weight gains on pasture cattle. These ionophores work in the rumen of cattle by altering the different species of microbes that digest feeds.

ANNOUNCER:              Can you expand on that a bit on how ionophores work in the rumen?

Sam:                            Sure, as long as you don’t mind a little bit of a science lesson here.

ANNOUNCER:              That’s quite all right. We could use the science.

Sam:                            [laughs] I’d be glad to delve into that a little bit deeper.

                                    So, we know that ruminants — in this case, we’re talking cattle, sheep, and goats in the livestock sector — they’re able to digest grass and hay that humans wouldn’t be able to survive on. They can do this because the rumen, which is the largest of the four chambers of their stomach, contains trillions of tiny microbes, and these microbes, in the process of digestion, produce compounds called volatile fatty acids, which we abbreviate as VFAs. And the VFAs end up being the primary energy source or, if you will, the fuel source for the animal. 

Now, there’re lots of different species of microbes, and different ones produce different VFAs. Kind of like if you look at a lot of different people doing different jobs, so a lot going on in the rumen. Now, there are certain fuels that are more efficient at producing heat for homes or power, or to power cars and trucks. And along those same lines, certain VFAs provide better feed efficiency for cattle.

Now, ionophores impact is efficiency by suppressing certain populations of microbes that are less efficient at the expense of those that are more efficient at digesting feeds. In this way, we end up having less wasted energy or, if we go back to the fuel analogy, we have less exhaust produced. One of the waste products produced by digestion is the greenhouse gas methane, and ionophores reduce the amount of methane released by the animal. 

ANNOUNCER:              Ah, that’s important. Well, how effective is an ionophore for feeding cattle?

Sam:                           Well, since we work mostly with stocker cattle and replacement heifers on pasture hay, when we’re talking about these ionophores, the most prevalent one used for calves on grass is Bovatec, which I mentioned previously. Now, the manufacturer of Bovatec, in order to get it approved for feeding to cattle, had to show FDA a lot of research. And in these studies it showed that the producer can expect about a 5–10% improvement in weight gains in pasture cattle, so definitely a good investment. Including Bovatec in the diet will cost roughly 2 cents per head per day.

And at Crystalyx, we included it in a low-moisture block called Iono-lyx®. Now, Iono-lyx will offer not just the Bovatec, but it’s also a complete package of supplemental nutrition. So, it’s got protein, as well as minerals and vitamins in there, which will help complement the forage. In improved gains in the stocker program, we can see those calves reach a target selling rate quicker, or if feeding the replacement heifers, we can expect these heifers to reach puberty sooner.

Now, with high feed costs, and one of the other problems we’ve seen in the last several years is that drought covering a large portion of the country, if we can see any savings on feed, that can really help a lot in terms of reaching a more positive bottom line for the producers. Now, in 2019, the Iono-lyx formula was enhanced to include organic or chelated trace minerals called Bioplex®. Now, in the organic form, which is the same form or similar form to how these trace minerals are found naturally in the grasses that cattle consume, absorption is improved, so we find calves can do better on a lower level in the feed. Sort of like the same way Bovatec works. As already mentioned, Bovatec produces methane, and with organic trace minerals, we also see less environmental waste since the cattle utilize more for growth and supporting better health.

Now, this focus on producing more with lower inputs fits the overall company approach. Our parent company, Alltech, introduced a vision in 2019 called the Planet of Plenty, which is an approach in which we look at ways of how we can produce food more efficiently and sustainably for the growing population we expect to see in the future. So, Iono-lyx just fits into this philosophy very well.

ANNOUNCER:             Sam, any final thoughts on this topic of lowering feed cost before we wrap things up?

Sam:                           Yeah. I’d just like to emphasize that it’s really important when you look at the cost of a feed additive and what its return on investment can be in today’s high-price feed market. Bovatec is one of those additives that has a high return for its initial cost, and our Iono-lyx block is the only low-moisture block which is FDA-approved for this free-choice feeding market. We can look out the window and see that green grass is certainly growing rapidly as we speak, and there’re a lot of stocker cattle and replacements on grass. So, Iono-lyx, which we package in a unique blue tub to better identify it from our other block containers or biodegradable biobarrels, is just a great fit to help improve gains on grass.   In general, due to their low intake, Crystalyx blocks offer a type of feeding program that’s very efficient because you only need to replace them every couple of weeks or so to a group. So, in terms of helping the producer, we can help keep the labor cost down and equipment cost much lower. Since they’re extremely hard, we also see that they’re resistant to bad weather, so there’s no waste involved.

So, just to wrap up, Tom, if there’s anyone that wants to learn more, they can ask their local Crystalyx dealer for information or just visit our Crystalyx.com website to learn more about these products.

ANNOUNCER:               All right. That’s Crystalyx Brand Supplement’s nutritionist, Sam Strahan.

                                    Sam, thanks and I’m sure we’re going to talk to you again soon.

Sam:                            Thank you, Tom. It was great being with you this morning.