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Animal Health Notebook

The Right Supplement Should Make You Money

Combine good supplement program with good forage production for maximum profit per acre.


At our ranch and on every operation that we consult, our goal is maximum profitability per acre.

A significant portion of this is done by maintaining and building soil and forage fertility and health. Cattle health and performance reflects soil and forage health.

We utilize the cattle to make vast improvements in our land’s fertility via controlled grazing, but the cattle must perform to produce profits.

Our area receives more than 50 inches of annual moisture and somewhat low sunshine hours and intensity, so forage energy is most always low and is our most limiting factor to cattle performance. Therefore energy is the basis for our supplementation program.

Strangely enough, natural protein meals (soybean meal, cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal, pea meal and so forth) tend to increase rumen microbe activity, microbe reproduction, and energy production from forages. Cattle will make a positive response to natural protein meal supplementation throughout the majority of the year.

The amount needed per 1,000 pounds of cattle varies. However, the response is most often positive. Cattle will give a positive response for up to three days after consuming protein, and it is common to see successful ranches that feed protein cake to their cow herd three times weekly.

With the knowledge of planned grazing and one or more cattle moves to new forage daily, it has become rather easy and profitable for us to supplement natural protein daily. I emphasize natural protein because a non-protein ammonia such as urea will have negative effects in the face of low forage.

Our energy deficiency is most pronounced during the winter and early to mid-spring.

The natural protein supplementation is our most economical method of increasing energy. If the pasture is lush and washy and cattle are loose and scouring, we also add hay and grazing management to maintain production and reduce stress on the cattle. Scouring cattle clearly are under stress.

Our natural protein supplementation usually consists of 4 to 6 ounces of 48% soybean meal per 1,000 pounds of body weight per day during the vast majority of the year, as long as we have at least 30% green forage available. If the forage is all red, brown, yellow or white, the protein supplement is increased and may get as high as 16 to 24 ounces per 1,000 pounds daily in late winter or in a severe drought. Remember, there must be plenty of forage maturity and that dry matter content is important.

The take-home message here is that most cattle in most of the country need and respond to some natural protein supplement the majority of the year in order to efficiently perform on forage. This becomes increasingly important as you move east from Interstate 35 and pick up more annual moisture and have lower levels of soil mineralization.

The amount of protein supplement will vary from week to week, season to season, year to year, and location to location. The numbers to remember are two to 24 ounces of protein supplement per 1,000 pounds of body weight. The manure should be stacking two to four inches high, have a saucer in the middle, and have the consistency of peanut butter. Make a habit of looking down and paying attention. It will increase your bottom line.

Hopefully, the cattle are now performing as if you were "cooking with gas."

Unless cattle need more than four to six ounces of natural protein supplement daily, it is relatively easy to feed in a salt/mineral mixture. This needs to be fresh and close to the cattle and fed away from shade or camping areas. We move supplement forward with the cattle at least three times weekly. Here is the formula we use:

            50 pounds – soybean meal

            30 pounds – salt

            30 pounds – lime (calcium carbonate)

            5 pounds – phosphorus (0-46-0)

            2 pounds – vitamin A

            1 gallon – vegetable oil

This formula performs well after pastures green up and have some degree of maturity.

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