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Beefs and Beliefs

Watch Dung and Behavior for Top Performance

Brix testing can also help measure cattle performance on pasture.

Last week while in Canada I posted some information on Neil Dennis’s discussion of how cattle should act when moving if the energy-to-protein ratio is right for top performance.

That’s the first key, he says.

The second is to look at their manure. Most of it should be slightly firm – not soft with a puddle in the middle as many people say. Actually, any runniness is a sign of too much protein and not enough sugar, Dennis says.

Instead, their dung should be a little bit firm and slightly stacked up, with a “greasy” or “slick” look on the surface, he says. You should even be able to pick it up without getting your hand terribly dirty.

Here’s a just-right pile of dung from cattle that ran and bucked and kicked up their heels when moving to a new paddock:

Additionally, this was mid-afternoon when the refractometer was showing higher Brix readings in the forage, therefore indicating higher sugar content than was present in the mornings.

Sugar isn’t the whole story, however. The gist is that energy and protein need to be roughly balanced in the plant for maximum performance by cattle. That usually occurs as the plant matures. Early in the regrowth or growth period plant protein is very high and the sugar content quite low.

Brix readings taken the same way and the same time of day on your operation can help confirm what you’re seeing in cattle behavior and help you tune your moves or your supplements to try and maximize performance.

While I was in Saskatchewan with Dennis, he had only two days before started seeing the cattle change to more lethargic behavior at paddock moves. Brix hadn’t dropped much but he was working on the premise the protein may have gone up in the plants. He had begun offering straw hay with molasses and oil and some other components as per the instructions of Rodger Savory.

Savory is the son of Holistic Management founder Allan Savory. Rodger ran his own ranch and later the Africa Center for HM for many years, testing many grazing and forage management techniques as a part of his Holistic planning and management. He’s now ranching in Saskatchewan and working as a management consultant all over the world.

If you’d like to read more about Brix readings as a grass management tool, try this excellent article on the web.

Also, I’ll be posting some video very soon of Neil Dennis doing Brix testing on some of his forage. We’ll investigate it more then.

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