Winter supplementation challenges

Jan 19, 2018


ANNOUNCER:    Welcome to the latest “Block Talk ” podcast, brought to you by CRYSTALYX® Brand supplements. No one needs to tell you that it’s winter, and it has been a unique one so far. Every winter provides its own set of challenges for livestock producers, and this one is no different, especially when it comes to winter grazing. Teri Walsh is a nutritionist for CRYSTALYX, with a special emphasis in ruminant nutrition. In her latest blog, Teri focused on supplementing by the numbers and what it means for winter grazing. So, Teri, what are some of the factors that enter into producer decisions this time of year?

TERI:                 A lot of it has to do with what kind of fall they had. So, a lot of parts of the upper mountain plains, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, have a little bit of a drought. So their concern, as we’re in the winter grazing season now is that they weren’t able to stockpile as much, just because the grass didn’t grow. And, as you move towards the southern states, they’re wondering what’s happening with their winter. Friends in Louisiana today are staying home because they got a dusting of snow. So, it’s really something kind of out of the ordinary for them and they’re not really used to having to deal with that. So, it’s a new adventure for them as well. The factors that are playing into this are the weather leading into the winter and the winter weather itself. So if you have a deep snow pack in some parts of the U.S., the cattle have to work a little bit more to get at that grass underneath. And, I’m not even sure what the cattle in the south are even thinking right now!

Related article: Supplement by the numbers

ANNOUNCER:    And, of course, supplementation plays a big part in all this too.

TERI:                 It sure does! Because, one, producers want to make sure they’re cattle have enough, in terms of energy, and protein, and just food in general, to make it through the weird winter that we’re having. Additionally, when we have forages that are lower in quality, ten percent protein and less, that really eliminates the ability of the rumen bugs to do their job effectively. And so then, protein supplementation a priority, so that those cattle can get the most out of the forage that’s available.

ANNOUNCER:    The study that you wrote about in your blog referenced a cake treatment and a block treatment. So, what are the differences between supplementing cattle with cake and supplementing with a block?

TERI:                 What we’re doing, whether we’re putting out cake or putting out a block is, we’re supplementing protein. What it comes down to when you’re looking at cake is you have additional labor costs. Because, you’ve got to deliver that to the cattle a couple times a week. Maybe, if it’s a harsh winter, you’re doing it every day. But that’s either somebody standing on the back of your pickup with a cut bag as you drive very slowly along, cause safety first. Or, you’ve invested in a machine that doles it out as your drive along. When we’re looking at a block, again, we can supplement protein, but that block is there, in front of those cattle, 24/7. And the only thing you need to do is go out a couple times a week and see where that block is at, and is it time to replace it or not.

ANNOUNCER:    So let’s talk about some numbers as you talk about supplementing by the numbers. The study included GPS-tracked cattle, so what could producers learn from the results of those tracked cattle?

TERI:                 Well, that was really kind of one of the more interesting parts of that is in each treatment group, the selected four to eight cattle, and they were tracked at ten minute intervals for a period over two weeks. And what they noticed is that the cattle that were supplemented with the blocks spent more time near that supplement than the cattle that were supplemented with cake. Additionally, the cattle that were supplemented with the block spent a little bit less time around water than the cattle that were fed the range cake. But what really I think is the best advantage for producers, especially in terms of pasture utilization, is that the cattle supplemented with the block spent more time on higher elevations than the cattle that were supplemented with the cake. So really, the cattle were following the block supplement. So where you put the block supplement is where you can influence where the cattle graze.

ANNOUNCER:    And so it really helps with grazing management as well, whether it’s winter or summer, spring or fall?

TERI:                 Exactly. Exactly.

ANNOUNCER:    So what are some factors that producers should look at when they’re evaluating a supplement program?

TERI:                 From the studies that I talk about in the blog, we do pull out three of them. We look at the supplement costs, which is the total cost of the supplement on a per-ton basis. Which can include delivery and storage. And then you also want to factor in how many pounds-per-head-per-day can you anticipate the cattle eating during your supplementation period. We also need to include labor costs. A lot of times producers don’t include the value of their time when they’re looking at costs of either supplementation or productions systems, etc. So we need to think about how many hours is it taking you to put the supplement out for each feeding? How many times are you doing it a week? Or if you’ve got your hired man going out there and doing that, what is that cost? And then finally, we need to think about travel and equipment costs. If you’ve got to take your pickup out there to the pasture three times a week to feed cake, how much does that cost? And how much wear and tear is that adding on your pickup, or how much did that cake feeder cost you and what’s the depreciation rate on that? The differences in intake between cake and the block supplement, where the cake cattle ate just over a pound-and-a-half of supplement per-head-per-day, the block cattle ate just over a half-pound per-head-per-day. But, the end weight of the cattle, and the body conditioning score of the cattle at the end of the trial were the same for both groups. So I think that’s just an interesting perspective on the fact that intake does not equal performance.

ANNOUNCER:    So is there some tools that CRYSTALYX can offer that can help evaluate these supplement programs?

TERI:                 Yes. We have the CRYSTAL CLEAR ECONMYX, which is a spreadsheet that producers can download for free. And, they can put in the cost of their current supplementation program, and then they can use that to compare it to the cost of a CRYSTALYX supplementation program if that’s where they’re thinking of going. And they can find that on our website at And, if they scroll to the bottom of the page, they’ll see an icon that looks like a gear, and below that it says producer tools.

ANNOUNCER:    Well, what it adds up to is just figuring in all the factors that can add up to the cost of supplementation.

TERI:                 Exactly. And sometimes it might surprise you how much it is, because I think a lot of times, like I said before, producers don’t count their own time, or their hired man’s time into that cost of supplementation.

ANNOUNCER:    That’s it for this Block Talk Podcast brought to you by CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements an easy way to provide self-fed protein, vitamins and trace minerals in a low moisture supplement formulated for all types of feeding situations from low quality forages to fly control and everything in between. Learn more about all CRYSTALYX products and how using CRYSTAL CLEAR ECONOMYX can help you evaluate the total cost of your supplement program by going to It all adds up to Results by the Barrel.


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