Cattle Today

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NUTRITION AND THE PUREBRED HERD - WHAT'S THE CONNECTION?

Dr. Steve Blezinger
Ph.D.

In many previous issues we have discussed at length nutrition and management as it relates to beef cattle in general. We've talked about the specific roles that many of the nutrients play as well as how we can feed and supplement the cow herd as cheaply but effectively as possible. In this issue, I'd like to take some time and address the purebred operations more specifically and examine many of the issues that are of concern.

Over the last few years I‘ve had the opportunity to work with numerous purebred operations producing several different breeds. These have included Santa Gertrudis, Brangus, Limousin, Simmental, Belgian Blue, Charolais, etc. I've been impressed by the management capabilities and the attention to the genetic base. I've also been amazed at the level of marketing efforts that these operations utilized. Interestingly, one thing observed is that in many cases while exceptional attention was given to these areas, focus on actual production involving feeding and nutrition has been less of a concern. In many cases, these producers tended to overspend on feed and other related inputs. This can be the case for a variety of reasons but few are related to performance of the animal or the economics of the situation. I've found that in many cases the feeding and nutrition program of these operations can be fine-tuned to improve profitability quite nicely while maintaining the image desired and actually improving overall performance.

Nutrient Intake and Body Condition

Under most circumstances, many of the breeders I have worked with felt it necessary to maintain their herd in excellent body condition year-round. This tends to have good and bad points.

1) It creates a herd with exceptional visual appeal.

Potential buyers coming to the ranch to look at the cattle and possibly purchase bulls or females generally appreciate a herd that is well conditioned, in other words, they want to see few, if any, thin animals. It has been discussed time and time again that many buyers will adamantly tell the rancher that they are not interested in cattle carrying a lot of flesh but will often purchase animals that are of the better conditioned in the herd. While this is not a situation that will go away anytime soon, producers need to become more educated when buying cattle that the purchase of animals carrying a lot of fat has certain risks. The greatest of this is that in order for these animals to possess the body condition that the buyer has found appealing, in many cases these cattle require a fairly high level of feeding or nutrient intake. If, when the buyer gets home and does not maintain this level of nutrient intake, the cattle will tend to lose weight and in many cases “fall apart” as is said in the industry. Unfortunately, the buyer often blames the producer for selling cattle that are inferior in their breeding when the genetics have nothing to do with this situation. It was simply a matter of changing the animal's diet and reducing the intake of nutrients, specifically energy, that maintain body weight and condition. It is important that producers communicate to potential buyers what type of nutritional program they have used to get these cattle to the condition they are and what must be done to maintain this condition. This can reduce many potential hard feelings once the animal leaves the ranch.

2) Weaning and yearling weights and rate of gain are often impressive.

Often a rancher will produce cattle that exhibit exceptional weaning weights, yearling weights and have high rates of gain through the growth process. It's important to recognize what it takes to achieve this. In many cases, the genetic background of the animal will facilitate high growth rates, in others it is the fact that these animals have been heavily fed or supplemented to reach this point. Since the purebred breeder is producing animal that will go back onto grass, it is important that the cattle he or she produces for sale be developed on a nutritionally sound, forage-based program. In many cases this may produce an animal that may not carry quite the same level of condition that a heavily fed animal will, but it will result in one that will perform better when it leaves the ranch and one that is not as heavily dependent on high intakes of grains or concentrates to maintain the condition it possesses at the time of sale.

3) A program such as this can result in a certain percentage of over-fat cattle.

While it is important to maintain acceptable levels of body condition to insure rapid breed-back, good conception rates, as well as high weaning weights, overly fat cattle can be as much of a problem as thin animals. When cows are excessively fat, research has shown that conception rates tend to regress. Much of this has to do with the level of fat found in the reproductive areas and the reduction in reproductive efficiency. Over-conditioned bulls cannot handle the breeding requirements of as many cows as would be expected due to the effort required to travel as necessary. Overly fat cows at calving can experience more calving difficulty, increased dystocial (calf deaths) and numerous other metabolic problems such as milk fever, ketosis, tetany, etc.

4) Over-conditioning of the herd is expensive

Keeping exceptional levels of fat on the cow, especially at times when forage nutrient intake may be low, i.e. winter hay-feeding can be hard on the pocketbook. For one, putting fat on a mature animal is a relatively inefficient process. Feedlot managers will tell you that as they begin “finishing” cattle, in other words, they are no longer growing the animals and putting on muscle and bone, but instead are producing fat, is the most inefficient, costly part of the cattle feeding process. Likewise, putting higher levels of fleshing on the cow is also expensive and often requires higher amounts of supplemental feed if a good forage base is not present.

So what's a purebred producer to do? First, he or she has to recognize several factors that can make a great difference in his profitability. Second it is vital that a good understanding of nutritional management is developed. The best genetics in the world will be no better than a marginal nutritional management program. Third is implementation of such a program in a way that it results in cattle that are efficient, productive and still maintain the desired eye-appeal. Let's step through this process.

A. Base your nutritional management on a sound forage program

Whether a cow is a commercial Heinz 57 or the best of the best purebred stock available, she is still designed to utilize grass as the mainstay of her diet. When producing and promoting quality seedstock animals, development of these cattle on a sound forage-based program is exceptionally beneficial both to you as the producer and to the buyer. Pastures and harvested forages need to be managed to act as a good nutrient source high in protein and digestible fiber components. This promotes the development of sound rumen and gastrointestinal system which allows the intake and digestion of large volumes of forages.

B. Adopt an accurately designed mineral program

One of the single greatest stumbling blocks for many operations is the mineral program. We've discussed mineral programs time and time again in these articles and I cannot stress enough how important a quality mineral program is. I've heard many a breeder complain that mineral is too high. Consider that a cow will consume approximately 90 lbs. of mineral year-round and the average mineral costs about $450.00 per ton ($.225 per lb.). This means that your total annual mineral cost per cow is $20.25. For a herd of 100 head this results in a total cost of $2,025.00. By adopting a sound mineral program, conception rates will be improved and time to rebreeding will be reduced significantly. These two effects alone will more than compensate for the cost of the product in addition to improving health of the animals, overall efficiency and longevity.

C. Evaluate supplementation programs for cost effectiveness and ability to deliver the needed nutrients.

In addition to the mineral program, a solid protein and energy supplementation program should be developed and adopted which will provide the needed nutrients in a timely fashion. This will greatly increase reproductive efficiency, improve weaning and yearling weights and maintain good body condition. To maximize profits, evaluate as many sources as possible to compare product costs, resources and labor needed for feeding, etc. to determine what works best for you.

D. Implement programs to grow and develop bulls and heifers that build structure - not fat.

As discussed before, purebred breeders, in hopes of enhancing performance data will overfeed growing and developing bulls and heifers, while this results in rapid rate gains, good conversions and large growthy cattle, these cattle may also become overfat and not perform well once placed into a breeding herd. Remember that initially you need to build skeletal and muscle structure. This is accomplished by feeding high quality roughages complimented by appropriate levels of protein and minerals and the proper amount of energy to produce efficient gains of leant tissue. Overfeeding or feeding of too much energy too soon will result in premature fat deposition and may interfere with the desired structural growth.

E. Learn as much as possible about sound nutrition and feeding and pass the information on.

I've encountered many breeders who are fairly new in the business who have told me that the management, feeding, etc. program they are using was one suggested by a purebred breeder they purchased animals from. Unfortunately, in many cases, the information they have received may leave something to be desired and is costing this new producer a boatload of money. By providing sound, accurate nutrition feeding and management information you are providing an additional service along with the genetics you are selling him. Good sources of information can be difficult to find and if your one of them this is just another drawing card to your operation and the cattle you are producing.

Producing high quality, purebred cattle in a cost effective manner requires attention to the big three -- Genetics, Management, Nutrition. You cannot effectively survive without all three. Completeness is a characteristic of a high performing, high quality purebred cattle operation and should ultimately be every cattleman's goal.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is a consulting nutritionist with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached at P. O. Box 653 Sulphur Springs, TX 75483, by phone at (903) 885-7992 or by e-mail at sblez@unicomp.net

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