Is production efficiency the answer to falling cattle prices?

Beef producers can optimize digestion efficiency through two simple concepts - feed the rumen and protect the gut.

January 19, 2016

3 Min Read
Is production efficiency the answer to falling cattle prices?
<p><em>Giving rumen microbes the nutrients they need to digest low quality forages will increase the overall feed value of those forages and aid in improving feed efficiency.</em></p>

In light of recent drops in cattle prices, it is understandable that cattle producers are looking for ways to protect their investments. One such way is to reduce input costs. Considering that 80% of the cost of raising cattle comes from feed, one obvious way to do this is to optimize digestion efficiency. We can optimize digestion efficiency through two simple concepts- feed the rumen and protect the gut.

Feed the rumen

As we all know, when feeding a cow, we are actually feeding rumen microbes. When we promote the right combination of microbes and give them the conditions they need to thrive, they will break down forages, especially lower quality forages, more quickly and more efficiently, thus providing more nutritional value to the cow.

Protein: Rumenally available protein is a limiting factor in fiber fermentation. Protein is a key component needed for microbes to digest fiber. Additionally, inadequate dietary protein depresses appetite, reducing the amount of fiber available for the microbes to eat. Protein supplementation improves the microbes’ ability to digest low quality forages and increases forage intake, which in the end increases the number of microbes available for digestion by the ruminant. The result is increased protein and energy over the actual value of the hay itself.

As far as the microbes are concerned, it doesn’t matter if protein comes from natural protein sources or NPN. In fact, research has shown that microbes digest fiber in low quality hay moderately better with the addition of NPN-containing protein supplements vs. all natural protein supplementation. This is because 100% of NPN is available in the rumen, while not all of the natural protein is available to the microbes. However, both NPN-containing and all natural protein supplements improved fiber digestibility over hay alone.

Minerals: Rumen microbes require essential minerals to support the fermentation process. Some key minerals needed include phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur and cobalt. Generally, when we provide for the cow’s daily requirements, the requirements for the rumen microbes will be covered as well. When deficiencies exist, not only does the cow not have what she needs to perform most efficiently, but also, the microbes cannot fully digest forages, leaving nutrients on the table, furthering the vicious cycle.

Sugar: The main sources of energy in a forage-based diet are sugars and carbohydrates derived from forage fiber fermentation. One of the advantages of a small amount of supplemental molasses sugar as an energy source is that it can be utilized by fiber-digesting microbes, thus enhancing fiber digestion. On contrast, energy derived from a large amount of starch from grain-based feeds, such as corn, suppress fiber digestion.

Protect the gut

The small intestine is the site of the majority of nutrient absorption in the cow. The intestines host billions of microorganisms. Some are symbiotic and promote good health, while others are parasitic and cause significant damage which interferes with nutrient uptake for the rest of the animal’s life. Ideally, we want to preserve the “good” microorganisms and rid the body of the “bad” microorganisms to optimize nutrient absorption and overall efficiency.

catte nutrition gallery

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