Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre, says there are many questions to answer when looking at lick tubs, molasses blocks, mineral products and protein supplements.
“Are the products the best choice for the type of animal being fed and the feeds that are part of the program? Is the product a cost effective method to supply additional nutrients to a feeding program? Do these products have the capacity to supply the required nutrients?”
Before answering those questions, he says that producers need feed test results as a starting point for balancing rations, the weights of the animals being fed and the total supply of each feed - knowing the number of bales and weight, for example.
“Without taking into account these factors, any attempt to provide a balanced ration can create issues. If the quality of the feed is not known, there is no way to know if the tub, block, mineral or supplement is needed. If there is no defined starting point to the process, it is difficult to know if the actions are helping or hurting the situation.”
He says that it is understandable that farm and ranch owners or managers are trying to maximize the number of healthy calves born this year. They also require a high reproductive efficiency for the upcoming breeding season.
“This is sound management, and it is well understood that nutrition has a big part to play in calving and re-breeding success. Good management also involves achieving the objectives as efficiently as possible, including minimizing the costs when feeding and supplementing cows. Harlan Hughes a beef economist in North Dakota stated in the mid-1990s, that reducing winter feeding costs by $1 increases overall profitability of the operation by $2.48.”
Supplementation programs typically supply energy, protein, minerals, vitamins or a combination of the four. Producers need to check if the product of choice or a combination of products meets their requirements.
“In this example,” says Yaremcio, “we will assume that the ration is short of protein and 1 lb of a 20% protein block ($385 per tonne or 17.5 cents per lb) is required. How does this cost compare to adding wheat distillers grains with solubles (WDG) that contains 48% protein at a cost of 10 cents per lb? To provide the same amount of protein, the distiller should be fed at 0.4 lb at a cost of 4 cents per head per day. The WDG needs to be fed with grain or pellets. The cost of processing and delivering the grain needs to be calculated into the total cost. With the grain and distillers’ feeding plan, it is relatively safe to assume that every animal will receive some grain or protein every feeding. When feeding tubs, blocks, supplements or mineral free choice, there is no way to know how much product an animal is consuming and at what interval. The free choice system has the greatest risk of not achieving the intake that is needed.”
He adds that in this example, a 1400 lb cow in late pregnancy requires a 9% protein diet - dry basis - or roughly 1020 g of protein per day.
“Adding 1 lb of a 20% block or supplement increases protein content in the ration by 90 grams. The protein content of the diet increases by 0.5% on a dry matter basis. If the supplied ration is at 8%, adding 1 lb of a 20% product improves the situation, but it does not meet requirements. Without feed test results, the ration could easily be 12% protein and there is a protein supplementation cost of 17 cents a day per cow that is not required. This is hard-earned money that does not need to be spent.”
When feeding cereal silage, greenfeed or swath grazing to pregnant cows, Yaremcio says that a lack of calcium and magnesium is the biggest issue.
“In this situation, an added product should have more calcium (Ca) than phosphorus (P). Most block and tub products along with some minerals have equal amounts of Ca and P (1:1 ratio) or twice as much Ca to P - a 2:1 ratio. In many situations, the Ca to P ration in a mineral product may need to be 8:1 or higher, similar to a feedlot type mineral, to bring Ca and P levels into line.”
He notes that tub or block products have lower Ca and P levels compared to a dry mineral, and it is difficult to keep minerals in suspension during the manufacturing process.
“To successfully register a feed product, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires that the nutrient content in the first block must be the same as what is found in the last block in a batch. Ca and P are difficult to keep in solution during the mixing and manufacturing phase, so there could be a lower concentration in the final product. It is generally more efficient and more economical to feed a dry mineral to provide Ca or P in a ration rather than using a tub or block.”
“Let’s look at a swath grazing situation where the feed contains 0.32% Ca and 0.2% P and the Ca content in the tub or block is 4.7% Ca and 1.75% P. The final feeding program would require 3.9 lb of the block product to achieve a 2:1 Ca to P ratio. Cost would be $0.63 per head per day, when the block costs 17.5 cents a lb.”
He notes that other nutritional problems could occur with this feeding program, as some nutrients would be excessive, causing a reduction in performance.
“However, a second option would to be to feed 0.067 lb, 30 g, of limestone (38% Ca) to achieve the 2:1 ratio. The cost would be 1 to 2 cents per head per day. If a feedlot type mineral with 24% Ca and 8% P is fed at 0.25 lb a day, the cost would be roughly 8 cents per head per day. The key is to minimize expense but provide a proper ration.”
“Limestone provides only Ca while the feedlot mineral provides additional minerals, trace minerals and vitamins. Using a mixed commercial product that provides more than one nutrient may be more efficient than trying to blend products at home.”
Yaremcio adds that every farm or ranch is different, and there are many possible feed combinations to provide a balanced ration.
“Adopting a feeding practice must fit your management style and operation. If necessary, consult with a nutritionist to balance the ration, or use a ration-balancing program such as CowBytes to do the work yourself.”