by: Stephen B. Blezinger
Ph.D., PAS

Don't worry, David Letterman has not quit his day job to take a stab at being a ruminant nutritionist. But for a lot of us, being able to break management techniques and concepts that can be a little complicated into ten “easy” steps has a lot of appeal. We constantly discuss how to reduce costs in our quest for increased profitability. But in looking at the “top ten,” reducing costs may not always be the best strategy. In some cases we have to spend a little money to make some money. So maybe the title of this article should be the “Ten Good Ways to Improve Your Profitability.” Whatever the title, let's look at some strategies you can use to keep costs down and improve animal performance. Somewhere in here are some opportunities to increase your means of improving profitability on your farm or ranch.

1. Keep good, consistent records. Keeping an eye on cattle performance and costs allows producers to determine what is working and what is not and make informed changes accordingly. This is particularly important as both feed and supplement costs and cattle prices change. It also is important as environmental conditions change and it becomes necessary to purchase hay or other roughages. Knowing current costs of production is essential to making timely marketing decisions and reducing grain use.

There are various feed companies, independent nutritionists and veterinarians that production monitoring as a service. Additional recordkeeping software is also available to help with this task and finally, something as simple as a home developed spreadsheet can help keep your finger on the pulse of your cattle operation.

2. Forage, Ingredient and Soil Sampling and Analyses. Forages are the foundation for cow/calf and stocker operations. Knowing the nutrient composition of your grasses, legumes, hays and silages is absolutely critical to help you know how much or if you need to supplement. Overfeeding, especially with grain markets as they are, is very expensive and results in your spending money you don't have to. But by the same token, under-feeding can result in reduced reproductive performance (cattle not breeding in a timely manner, poor conception rates, small birth weights, reduced milk production, reduced weaning weights, etc.). Either way is expensive. This pertains to all nutrients. Knowing protein, energy and mineral levels plays a vital role to developing and implementing your nutrition program. Understanding that these numbers change on an ongoing basis is very important. Keeping your eyes on these nutrient values as you go through the year will help insure you are spending feeding and supplementation dollars wisely.

So, invest in a hay probe (, find a reputable feed and forage lab ( you are comfortable working with.

3. Feed and Feed Bunk Management. This pertains not just to bunk management as we would in a feedyard or dairy. Cow/calf operations may have numerous “feeding stations,” especially in fall, winter and early spring when supplementation is more prevalent. During these periods it's not uncommon to see a farm feeding hay and then supplementing with a hand-fed feed of some type, minerals and blocks/tubs or liquid feed. Whatever you do, keep track of hay intake and consumption patterns. Use of hay saving structures or equipment can dramatically reduce waste and related costs. Round bales fed without a ring or feeder or some protection may ften lose 30 to 40 percent. Monitor mineral and liquid self-feeders so you know what intake levels are. Not just to know if cattle are eating too much but also to insure they are eating enough. This is also true with any self-fed supplement. Targeting and achieving accurate intake can have substantial effects on costs and animal performance. This is especially true when using these methods to deliver strategic additives such as ionophores, fly control, etc. In higher feeding level situations such as growing or developing bulls and heifers, preconditioning and growing cattle or even in the feedyard, managing feed bunks more closely can improve efficiency by reducing the incidence of low level acidosis and other digestive upset on high grain rations. Using a bunk scoring system, or some method to reduce feed waste, can pay greater dividends during periods of high grain costs. Added benefits may be more consistent performance and better efficiency by reducing the day-to-day variation in feed consumption. Good feedbunk (feeding station) management also includes proper feed mixing, accurate weighing of feeds and feed ingredients and proper delivery. This ensures that expensive nutrients will not be overfed, and reduces the risk of deficiencies.

4. Alternative Forages and Feeds. Many cattle producers are searching for alternatives to high priced corn. Several commodity feeds/byproducts can be used effectively to provide necessary nutrients. To begin, search locally for feeds that may have a transportation cost advantage (a big consideration given fuel prices) in your feeding and nutrition program. In some areas, wet or high moisture byproducts such as wet brewer's grains, wet corn gluten feed and distiller's grains have a limited economical transportation range (you can only haul water so far). Some examples of alternative feeds that may be available include corn gluten feed, distillers grains, corn hominy, soybean hulls, corn screenings, off-grade or discounted corn (be careful of mycotoxin levels), other grains (wheat, barley, rye, milo, oats), bakery byproducts, and others. Commodity feeds that may partially substitute for corn include whole cottonseed, hominy feed, fat, and wheat midds. Forage alternatives may include cottonseed hulls or gin trash (cotton burrs), corn or milo stalks either standing or baled. Prices of these feeds tend to fluctuate in sympathy with the corn and soybean meal market. Also, alternative feeds vary in nutritional content and may have practical feeding restrictions. Contacting a qualified nutritionist to help make decisions relative to the substitution of alternative feeds can save you time, money and headaches.

5. Feed an ionophore or other additives (enzyme preparation). Products like Rumensin®, Bovatec®, and Cattylst®, are feed additives known as ionophores. They can improve feed efficiency 4 to 10 percent, depending on the type of ration fed. As feed costs increase, the payback for improved efficiency is much greater. Another rapidly growing additive group of interest are enzyme products or microbial fermentation products which provide an enzyme contribution. Research and experience in feeding enzymes to ruminants are finding improvements in nutrient digestibility and subsequent improvements in feed efficiency and animal performance. Recent trials reported improved cattle feeding performance with reduced levels of corn feeding with soy hulls as a substitute. Other studies are noting reductions in digestive upset such as bloat in pasture cattle when fed an enzyme preparation.

6. Implants. Implants are another technology that improves growth efficiency. New implant technologies and strategies can improve efficiency 10 to 15 percent. There are a variety of implant products and strategies currently available and will take a little research to get a good understanding. Your veterinarian or nutritionist can be of assistance in developing the right program for your operation. Many operations will begin an implant program with calves over 45 days of age and re-implant at appropriate intervals based on the effective release period of the products used. Remember implants should only be used in cattle not used for replacements. For a good discussion on implant use see

7. Marketing. For the typical cattle operation a marketing program consists of loading calves when they are big enough and hauling them to the auction barn. The one single, biggest problem that most cattle producers have is that they do not have a marketing program. In other words they have no true plan as to how they will sell their cattle aside from hauling them to the sale barn. While the use of local auctions should certainly be a consideration there are numerous other options that should be considered as well to insure the best sale price possible for your calves and the best total revenue generation per cow, per acre or however the producer needs to evaluate his economic performance. This is a topic for another article (rather a series of articles) but the point here is that every operations needs a plan on how to sell the cattle produced in the most profitable manner based on dynamic market conditions.

8. Protein supplementation. Protein supplementation is commonly the main nutrient of concern for cattle producers. And for cattle of forage programs, be they pasture, hay, silage or alternative forages, protein is often the first limiting nutrient. Alfalfa based programs seldom have an issue when it comes to protein availability. Initially, the producer is referred back to item 2 – sampling of the forage base so there is knowledge of the base protein level. Secondly, evaluate the needs of the various groups of cattle (dry cows, cows nursing calves, growing heifers, etc.) to determine how much protein is needed and finally an evaluation of current markets to determine what product type, feed, supplement is the best buy to supply that need. This will take some research and homework.

9. Mineral supplementation. Although this item is listed here at No. 9, mineral supplementation, especially for the cow/calf producer is a foundation component. A well-designed mineral program is a foundation that the rest of the nutritional program is built. Evaluate your mineral supplementation program. Are you feeding a protein supplement that is complete with minerals and supplementing minerals free choice? If your mineral is a free choice mineral, is it the right one and does it match your forage program as well as the mineral contributions made by other supplements? Phosphorous (P) is one of the most expensive nutrients that is added to most mineral supplements. In supplementation programs feeding significant amounts of grain the P level must be considered and reduced accordingly. Given the history of P supplementation it is not uncommon for it to be overfed. Again, work to find a mineral supplement that fits your program or, once again, consult a nutritionist to design a program specific for your operation.

10. Pay Attention to the Details. Basic management that requires little more than time can pay rewards in improving feed and performance efficiency when feed costs are high. These include routine water maintenance and cleaning, feeding cattle at the same time every day, monitoring feeders to make sure supplements are in places, handling cattle to reduce stress (including heat stress), and quality control on feeds, supplements and commodities. The little stuff can add up to big stuff!


Without a doubt there are numerous other items that could be added to this list that will save money, produce more revenue or both. Since every operation is unique, every operation needs individual analysis or attention. The items listed here are some of the most common areas that need attention by the typical producer.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is a management and nutritional consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (903) 352-3475. For more information please visit us on at www.facebook/reveillelivestockconcepts.

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