We all know proper nutrition is crucial to raising healthy cattle. What is less clear is how to provide it. Animals’ needs change significantly throughout their lifecycle, as can the nutritional value of feedstuffs. To achieve peak performance, including minimal occurrence of bovine respiratory disease (BRD), producers need to understand the basics and always think a step ahead.
- Work with an expert. A trained nutritionist is the obvious expert, but if regular consultations aren’t feasible, an experienced veterinarian, feed blender or retailer may be able to provide valuable insights as well. What producers can’t afford to do is go year after year feeding what has “always worked” in the past because it won’t necessarily work in the future.
- Start with the cow. At least two months before weaning, producers should already be thinking about the forage or ration that will replace nursing. Malnourished calves not only grow more slowly and enter a deeper immunity valley, but they also develop weaker lungs and upper-respiratory structure, and may lack sufficient populations of key rumen bacteria which support digestion. A transition diet that meets or exceeds Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle (NRC) recommendations for vitamins, trace minerals or other nutrients is important in establishing later performance potential.
- Too much is as dangerous as too little. Producers need to be especially vigilant when changing rations or experimenting with new feedstuffs. Mixing in too many carbohydrates too quickly can cause acidosis, a condition which is especially dangerous because it is often mistaken for BRD. Another issue, more common in recent years, is high levels of sulfur in feed and water leading to digestive, respiratory and nervous system issues.
- Don’t forget about the hospital ration. Sick animals may eat half as much as healthy ones, so they need a denser, but still digestible, ration to compensate. Protein, vitamins A and D, and trace minerals, like selenium and copper, are as important as a proper course of treatment when helping sick animals recover.
How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your nutritional program? Are you always looking for a better deal, or is consistency a higher priority than price alone? Remember, the less you know about what is fueling your animals, the more question marks you add to the source of every health challenge you face.