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Knowing cattle intake is key to managing diet transitions – Farm Talk

Posted: November 9, 2020 at 6:53 am

COVID-19 pandemic issues have raised challenges for area farmers and ranchers; including the availability of some of the commodities commonly used in livestock rations.

During a virtual presentation of Kansas State Universitys 2020 Beef Stocker Field Day, Beef Systems Specialist Justin Waggoner discussed strategies and guidelines for using alternative ingredients during shortages.

Waggoner focused on two types of alternative ingredients: common feedstuffs such as soybeans and grain screenings, and uncommon ingredients like bakery, vegetable, and produce waste.

The goal producers should shoot for while making ration ingredient changes, Waggoner pointed out, is to match the current ration as much as possible in terms of nutrient composition, palatability, and cost while successfully transitioning the cattle.

You know, to me, its really about dry matter intake, Waggoner said. And, from a very simple standpoint, dry matter intake in cattle equals nutrient intake, which directly equals cattle performance.

Knowing feed bunk content is one of the first steps to a successful ingredient change, according to Waggoner. Identify the current ration used, what commodities are included, and the overall nutrient analysis of the ration. Once current ration ingredients have been identified, selecting replacements for unavailable feedstuffs is a familiar exercise for most producers.

Now the criteria that I use for evaluating alternative ingredients really isnt any different for the most part from the process for the criteria that I would use for evaluating any ingredients that were gonna put into a ration, Waggoner said. Dry matter content, energy and protein content, nutrient concentrations, how it will react in the rumen, and fiber fraction, or NDF, are all important aspects to consider.

When formulating the ration, Waggoner said the inclusion of common alternative feedstuffs is typically limited by cost, nutrient profile, and anti-nutritional concerns. He suggested limiting inclusion of less common alternative ingredients to 10-30% of the ration on a dry matter basis and to also have a plan B if the ingredient cannot be sourced.

Naturally, navigating diet transitions can be a source of stress for producers. But Waggoner says that they dont have to be.

Diet transitions and just how we make those and the concepts behind that create some anxiety for producers, and I think that sometimes we forget that cattle are very robust creatures, Waggoner said. You know the rumen in itself is a very large mixing vessel from a very simplistic standpoint its certainly not an all-in or all-out type system.

In order to manage diet transitions for stocker cattle, Waggoner said to remember that, as a general rule, growing cattle generally consume approximately the same amount of dry matter, or calories, per day.

One of the keys of being able to manage cattle through diet transition is if we know cattle intake, Waggoner said. If I know how much feed a set of calves is consuming, I can calculate their dry matter as well as their energy intake and then make my ration adjustments on that basis.

Waggoner recommended trying to match the ration that the cattle are currently consuming, especially in terms of the energy level, so the same nutrients are being provided, just in a different amount of feed.

If the diet is similar, with no major ingredient changes, Waggoner suggested offering 98% of the target and then adjusting as needed from there. However, if major ingredient changes are made, he suggested only offering 90-95% of the target on the first feeding, and then stepping that up 2-3% per day. He said, to this end, 98-100% of target consumption should be reached in four days.

Another method producers can use to manage diet transitions is blending rations in the bunk.

Now on an operation, where we feed once per day, typically I would start with the old ration, make a second batch of feed of the new ration, and put that out on top, Waggoner said. If we are in a situation where we feed twice per day, a lot of times we will feed the old ration in the morning and the new ration in the afternoon.

Going slow and then increasing as needed is the way to go, Waggoner explained. He reminded producers the amount of feed delivered can be held at any point in the transition if necessary, even as much as 2-3 days. When producers find themselves in need of searching out alternative ration ingredients, Waggoner asked them to consider some key frameworks to have in place.

I think the first thing is we really need to be an operation that knows what youre feeding what are you putting in the bunk, whats the chemical composition of those commodities that are going in the bunks, Waggoner said. Then, we can do a really good job of putting an alternative ingredient in there, kind of matching your feeding program and making it fit.

A quality nutrient analysis can be essential to indentifying and quantifying those ingredient frameworks, Waggoner said.

Its really impossible for us to evaluate those ingredients without it. Other considerations are to address all handling issues, track cattle intakes, and be strategic about diet transitions. Cattle do handle diet transitions relatively well, Waggoner said. I do think we just need to be strategic about how we do it and really have a plan in place, and if we do those things, there are endless possibilities in terms of utilizing some alternative ingredients within a feeding program.

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Knowing cattle intake is key to managing diet transitions - Farm Talk

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