Delaware County Cooperative Extension

Winter Supplementation

Winter Supplementation
Earl H. Ward, NE Area Livestock Specialist

It is that time of year where feed mills start getting a thousand phone calls a day from people asking for the winter booking prices. I would venture to say that a large proportion of those callers have no idea of the quality of their forages, therefore have no clue as to which supplement is the most economical for their operation.

When I ask people why they feed a 20% cube to their cows, they respond with “That’s just what we have always done and have gotten along really well with it.” I agree with the theory that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it, but I also don’t like pouring money on the ground when it is not necessary.

To determine what we need to feed we must know our animal’s nutrient requirements and our forage quality. We can get a very close estimate of our animals’ nutrient requirements by looking at the National Research Council’s “Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle” or at the OSU Factsheet E-974. Determining our forage quality is as simple as taking a good representative sample of your hay and/or standing forage and sending it off to get analyzed. Always remember to have the forage tested for not only Crude Protein (CP), but also Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN).

Now that we know our nutrients required and nutrients supplied, we can quickly calculate the excess or deficiency of CP and/or TDN in our cow’s diet. When there is a deficiency is when we need to start supplementing. We are not “feeding,” we are merely supplementing what our forage does not provide. Feed tags do not contain a TDN value, therefore when you call to get your prices, also ask for the estimated TDN value of each supplement.

Now that you have all of your information, visit your OSU County Extension office to find help developing a supplementation plan that fits your operation the most economically. Remember that supplement prices and forage qualities change, so the supplement that was the most economical last year may not be the most economical this year.

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