by: Stephen B. Blezinger
Ph.D., PAS

Part 2

In the last issue we began a discussion of supplementation options the cattleman has. It does not take long to recognize the fact that there are a lot of decisions that must be made. This was one reason why we started with something that appears relatively simple, like protein supplementation. But even here we find that there is way more than meets the eye.

We started out by discussing using commodities as protein supplements and this is where we will pick up.

Commodities, Continued

One thing for the producer to understand is that for the most part, the commodity protein sources are used by feed manufacturers in finished feeds or supplements. You will also find these used extensively by larger producers that have the capability of receiving, storing and mixing their own feeds and supplements. It is, however, feasible to find some of the commodities in less than truckload quantities and even available in 50 lb. bags. In many cases though, the handling of smaller quantities and/or bagging removes the price advantage of feeding the commodity.

In the first part of this series 10 different commodities were listed that can be used as protein supplements for the cow. As shown, these products vary in terms of their crude protein content as well as other nutrient values. There are also some noted differences in the amount of variability in the actual protein content of a given source. For instance, the protein concentration in soybean meal is fairly consistent and will only vary a small amount from batch to batch. Some of the other by-product meals can vary to a greater degree, such as canola meal or dried distiller's grains. This means if the producer is using the by-product meals care must be taken to monitor what the actual nutrient content of the source or supply actually is.

The form of the product must be considered. Soybean meal is generally that – a meal. Cottonseed meal (CSM) is generally a meal as well although it can be found pelleted or cubed (cottonseed cake). The pelleting or cubing makes CSM easier to handle or feed (cubes can be fed on the ground although this is not advised) but it also adds cost to the product. Other protein sources such as canola, sunflower, linseed or peanut meals can commonly be found in a pelleted form. Again, anytime a product is pelleted, the added processing will also add cost. However, pellets are often much easier to handle and feed and in many cases are consumed more consistently especially when fed in a mix with other ingredients.

The cost of a given protein source is also variable based on the source but in many cases is relatively similar when calculated on a cost per unit of protein basis. Within a given market the cost of the product itself plus the transportation to the farm have to be factored in. It is important when evaluating protein sources to consider both the physical characteristics of the product as listed above as well as the cost. One of the most effective means of cost comparison is to consider the cost per unit (pound) of protein. Let's look at an example. Let's say you live in an area where you can purchase Cottonseed meal (CSM, 41 percent CP), Canola Meal (CM, 38 percent CP) and dried distiller's grains (DDG, 28 percent CP) fairly easily. Each pound of these commodities will provide .41, .38 and .28 lbs of protein respectively. That means, if you need to feed 1.5 lbs of protein daily to meet a particular group of cow's protein requirements you would need to feed 3.65 lbs of CSM, 3.95 lbs of CM or 5.35 lbs of DDG. Although this is variable and changes constantly let's say the current market for each of these is $380/ton for CSM, $290/ton for Canola and $250/ton for DDG. Let's put this into a table so it's a little easier to see.

Based on this table we can see that Canola Meal is the cheapest at providing the protein needed. If you were to expand on this, comparing the canola and the DDG feed to 100 head of cows over a 100 day feeding period, the difference would equal a $1,000 savings for the period.

However, one thing that the producer has to consider is the differences in other nutrients. DDG is considerably higher in fat than Canola (~8 percent for DDG as compared to 3.1 percent for Canola). As such, the energy content of DDG is quite a bit higher than Canola. With this being the case, if the producer is in a situation where cows may be in a lower than desirable body condition or that the forage base is not very good (common this year), he may need to factor in the value of the added energy DDG will provide since some added energy will be necessary to either maintain body condition or hopefully build this condition to insure reproductive function. In situations like this it is a good idea to get a nutritionist involved to help determine where the best value is. It may be that a combination of the two commodities could be the best value.

Other commodities are available that work extremely well but are not as high in protein as the protein meals. These include whole cottonseed, wheat midds, corn gluten feed and alfalfa pellets. These products can range from 16 to 24 percent protein and have to be fed at a higher level to meet protein requirements. This can be somewhat of a double edged sword. On one hand this can provide more energy and help maintain the cow's body condition. It can also help conserve hay or provide for nutrient needs when forage is short. In many areas, where hay must now be purchased and is extremely expensive, this is a very viable alternative and a means of conserving hay and cutting costs. On the other hand, feeding higher levels of commodities that are also high in starch and/or fat, this can interfere with fiber digestion and prevent the animal from getting the most from the forages available to them. This is a problem in areas that do have adequate forage supplies and where quality is good. Under these circumstances, protein sources that are higher in protein concentrations and that can be fed at lower levels are desirable.

If you are somewhat computer literate it is fairly simple to set up a spreadsheet page to help automatically run the calculations as used in the table above to help in this decision making process.

Other Protein Sources

For most producers this should be a review but it is always helpful to be reminded of the options available to cattle producers when it comes to making feeding and supplementation choices. In most areas there are a variety of choices that the producer has in terms of forms, methods and costs.

After our discussion of commodities which are the most basic we, we have to considered the variety of manufactured protein sources. Many of these supplements are broader than the commodities and are sources of energy as well as minerals and vitamins. They can also be formulated to include a wide variety of additives including medications and other nutritional tools which can be used to enhance rumen fermentation or performance in general. Let's take some time to go through each of these. At the end we'll do some comparisons as well to help with the decision making process.

Manufactured Feeds

Manufactured feeds are the most common as well as the most time honored. Products such as range cubes or salt and meal mixes have been used for years as a means of providing protein to cow herds.

a. Range Cubes

Cubes have been desirable largely due to the form. A ¾” cube that is two to three inches long is useful in that it can be fed on the ground and does not require a trough for feeding to take place. An entire supplemental package can be formulated into a cube including protein, energy, minerals and vitamins. Cubes commonly contain 20$ protein but can range from 12 to 38 percent depending on the exact formulation and if they contain urea (a commonly included source of protein equivalent). Ingredients used are wide ranging. A common ingredient, especially in the southern US is cottonseed which increases the fat and energy content. Special care has to be given in formulation and in the actual manufacturing process so that the cube will hold together well. Cottonseed cubes are typically a little more expensive than average range cubes. Another common form is referred to as cottonseed “cake.” These cubes are largely cottonseed meal and will run higher in protein. Cottonseed meal pellets and cubes fairly well so the formula can be mostly, if not entirely cottonseed meal thus providing a cube that is almost or equal to the protein value of meal alone. This also means that little if any added nutrient such as minerals or vitamins will be added to the formula.

It can be assumed that a significant amount of waste does take place with feeding cubes on the ground, especially if the conditions are wet and cubes can deteriorate rapidly. They can also be stepped by the cattle on as well as defecated and urinated on rendering them useless. A loss of approximately 20-30 percent can be assumed which means your total supplementation cost is considerably higher than the simple product cost.

Cubes are typically fed directly out of the bag although it is becoming increasingly common for producers to buy cubes in bulk and feed them out of a smaller trailer or truck mounted feeder into troughs or onto the ground. This prevents the producer or his employees from having to get in between the cows to feed and potentially be knocked down and injured. This is a significant problem as the average age of the cattle producer gradually increases.

As with all feeds and supplements this year, range cubes, regardless of formulation are expensive this year. With the high cost comes the need to make careful choices in the formulation, amount fed and take all precautions possible to reduce waste. And, as indicated above, great care must be taken to prevent injury when feeding.

b. Range Meals

Range meals typically are characterized as moderate protein supplements that include higher levels of salt and are generally self-fed to the cow herd. Range meals will range from 20 to 50% salt and operate under the rule of thumb that a cow will eat about 1 lb. of salt per day. This would mean that a meal containing 20% salt would allow the cow to eat a total of 5 lbs per day, one with 25% salt, 4 lbs per day, 33% salt, 3 lbs and 50% salt 2 lbs per head per day. This is highly variable and many producers find that individual animals can consume considerably more salt than this. Other technologies have been developed to limit intake using a combination of products in an effort to modify palatability as well as blood chemistry in an effort to suppress intake of supplements of this nature. This seems to work well in younger, smaller cattle but is not as effective with a mature, hungry cow. Use of supplements where intake is limited is popular because the supplement can be kept out constantly thus reducing the potential for the producer to be “mobbed” by the cattle when putting the supplement into the feeder. The key is keeping the supplement available to the cows. If they are continuously allowed to run out, the intake control will not be particularly effective.

Range meals, in their most basic form, have been a combination of salt and some type of protein meal such as cottonseed meal. The protein content of these meals has commonly run from 16 to 24 percent. Some manufacturers will add urea in an effort to formulate higher protein content. This is not advisable with a self fed dry feed product of this type where intake is not well controlled. If urea or another non-protein nitrogen source is added, the inclusion rate should be kept low. They can also include some energy however, the high salt level prevents significant amounts of energy to be included. Range meals can be a complete mineral and vitamin supplement in addition to the protein delivered.

This year, in many of the drought affected locations, water availability has been an issue. Anytime, a high salt inclusive product is fed ample water must be available since cattle will drink more. If a given herd of cattle may be pastured in an area where the water supply is limited, use of a salt-limited supplement would not be advised.

The cost of range meals appears to be lower than other supplements due to the high salt content which is considerably cheaper than grain ingredients. The cost per using of protein or total supplementation costs should be evaluated in deciding to use a range meal. However, the labor issue (self feeding) is also a factor and needs to be considered.


In the next part of the series we will continue the discussion on protein supplements outlining the components of each as well as the positives and negatives of their use. We will also get to a cost comparison model to help the producer walk through an evaluation and decision of which product will work the best in their operation.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is a nutritional and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached by phone at (903) 352-3475 or by e-mail at sblez@verizon.net. You can also follow us on Facebook at Reveille Livestock Concepts.

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