The summer’s green grass is past and winter’s a-coming. The cows are out grazing on a good stockpile of mature grasses which provide their roughage needs, as long as the mild weather holds out. But there is some question as to whether those dry grasses satisfy their protein and energy needs.
There have been years when we had begun feeding hay already, and it is simple enough to measure the feed value of the hay. I have a coring drill to extract hay samples which are sent for nutritive analysis, but that doesn’t work on grasses standing in the field. One can’t be sure which of the grasses the cows are eating, nor the quantity. So I have used a fecal analysis to determine if their nutritive needs are being met.
The quality of our grasses this year is lower than usual – demonstrated by our lower calf weaning weights. The theory is that the extreme moisture we received in June caused a more rapid growth, leaving the grasses taller, courser, and less palatable. I began researching supplements.
In the past we have fed “cake” when a supplement seemed beneficial. This is a grain-based pellet about the size of your thumb. We poured from the back of a moving pickup in a long line from sacks, and the cows came a-running to lick their share up from the ground. But this year the price was higher on cake, and I wanted to begin supplementing earlier in the fall. I settled on a product called Nutalix.
This is a molasses-based syrup fed in tubs. It provides extra energy and protein, as well as minerals. Its consumption is limited by the addition of salt to the formulation. The product is manufactured in Billings – 110 miles east of the ranch – which is the center for a sugar beet-growing area.
Protein is generally more expensive than energy – think meat as opposed to potatoes. But the rumen of a cow is able to convert “Non Protein Nitrogen” into protein. “Urea” is added to the syrup to provide this nitrogen source.
One of the components of urine is urea – which is a waste product from the breakdown of protein. The rumen bacteria of a cow are able to take this waste product and turn it back into protein!
In fact, that is the main value of cattle: they can take what are essentially waste products – grass, corn stalks, etc. – into meat. The largest component of their rations – roughage – does not compete with human needs for food and fuel, but rather converts the sunlight used in photosynthesis directly into high quality food!
For a while longer anyway, the cows are out grazing with minimal attention. Maybe now I can dig down through the accumulation on my desk to find the soothing wood beneath.