Producers shouldn't choose a ration just once. Nutritionist Robert Barrett, with Producers Cooperative Association, out of Bryan, Texas, says rations ought to be evaluated every time there's a change in the herd or its environment.
"A new group of animals, calves on the ground, milking, weaning … you have to consider it all," Barrett says. "Environment is key, too. Nutritional needs in a drought are far different from those when grass is abundant."
Generally speaking, the nutritionist recommends cow/calf producers look for a feed with a moderate protein level (12 to 14%); good roughage (20 to 25%) and energy for growth.
"It's very important to consider digestibility when we're talking about roughage content in a feed," he adds. "Don't throw in low-quality, poorly digested roughage to meet that 20%-to-25% level. Be especially cautious about rice hulls. In this part of the world, they are common and are poor quality."
Energy should come with a total digestible nutrient (TDN) level of 65 to 68% and a net energy gain of 45 to 48 megacalories (Mcal) per 100.
"Corn is probably the most common source for that, but milo can work nicely here, too," Barrett says. He adds some of the coproducts may also have a place. The goal is 2 to 2.25 pounds of good growth a day on a commercial heifer.
Rations can be either pelleted or loose. Pelleted is best for bulk feeders and often provides more flexibility with ingredients. With pellets, every bite is the same, but Barrett notes intake does vary. If a producer is worried about overconsumption, textured feed may help manage that issue.
Late summer, Barrett urges clients to do a feed inventory on forage and hay, planning to get the herd through to the spring. "You need to have a good idea of how short you are on forage and do an inventory as to what's in the pasture or in the barn. Know what you're going to need to get through," he says.
With regard to that hay in the barn, he adds it helps to know the nutritional quality. "A lot of times, producers don't test their hay; but, if you have a good-quality hay, you are going to be able to supplement with a less-expensive product. If it's poor quality, you need something more.
"Your management strategy has to be that you don't get behind, because by the time you see body condition going down, you're behind the curve," Barrett stresses. "It's always easier and more economical to keep females in good condition than to try to get them back in condition to breed."
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