Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Some thoughts on feeding beef cows and the effect of supplements

  CONCEPTIONS  Beef Cow-calf newsletter         March-April 2022 

As I get older I pay more attention to people like Allen Williams, who is telling us fertility is a better measure of beef cow genetics (and a better selection strategy for profit) than rates of gain.     Feeding determines most of our weight gains.

If you are a “corn and beans” row-crop farmer with a few cows on the side, and dry lot house your cattle while crops are growing, it is certainly easier to lift that scoop of grain than that bale of hay, every day.    But it is also noticeable that the larger the cattle operation, the more emphasis is put on grazing cows and using pastures, extending the grazing season as long as you can, as the most expensive thing we do in cattle feeding is pour diesel fuel into machinery to feed them in a barn or dry lots, and haul away their manure.    Why is this true?     Because the typical beef cow is only going to generate a 550 pound calf at weaning on her own  (and the cheapest way she does that is to nurse that calf while on a good pasture, teaching it to also eat grass and thereby develop a more efficient rumen).    

All the big farming publications push heavier weaning weights.     Breeds publish the weaning averages of breeders’ calves at standardized (205 day) ages, hoping to prove their breed is better than the others.     In many farms “creep feeders” offer supplemental feeds  (grain rations, heavy on corn and oilseed byproducts)  so calves get extra energy beyond momma’s milk.     But does the market price structure pay you a profit on that increment of expense?    And are those “fat” heifers that result harder breeding and calving than pasture-raised females?

In other words, a decent beef cow even of smaller frame size will grow a calf its first 550 pounds of weight on milk alone, and the best of them will make their milk on grass alone.     All the supplements you feed, from hay to silage to grain mixes to probiotic stimulants, put on the other 200 to 250 pounds…  and as they reach puberty, the smaller frame breeds start to store excess intramuscular fat from the extra concentrated energy that corn and other supplements provide.

It is a huge waste of resources across our industry, to be faced with trimming all the extra (inedible) fat off carcasses after slaughter.    “Bark” fat is more prone to turn rancid and adds nothing to meat flavor or texture when cooked.   The only fat desirable to the consumer is the “marbled” fat that provides flavor.   


Are you making “records” or making “profits” ??

Paying attention at calving time improves conception at rebreeding time.

Raising replacements on grass builds more rumen capacity and digestive efficiency that helps the cow be profitable for a full lifetime

Growing market animals primarily on forage reduces feed costs per pound of gain and sets you up for profitability even in times of fluctuating market prices.

Selecting “terminal cross” sires on fleshing (muscularity instead of fat cover) and “maternal trait” sires on fertility and cow-line longevity is better use of genetics to improve a cow herd for the long-term than EPDs that can be “enhanced” by creep feeding calves and supplementing cows with high energy grains and oilseeds.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc  “For the Best in Bulls” and profit-making forages

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