Cattle Supplements: Don’t Set and Forget

Nutrition : Minerals

Nutrition : Supplements

Christina Hayes, Ph.D.

Product Manager, Beef Technical Solutions

Self-fed supplements are commonly used to deliver essential nutrients to cattle and to meet their nutritional requirements.

However, use of a self-fed cattle supplement does not translate to a self-managed supplementation program.

One of the biggest challenges producers face with self-fed supplements is consumption. Many things can influence consumption, from forage quality and amount to supplement location and water availability. But you can take steps to help manage supplements and optimize intake.

The first step to becoming a better supplement manager begins with measuring intake.

Determining cattle supplement consumption

Calculating consumption can help you get a baseline intake for your herd, which you can then compare to target intake levels for the supplement. If your herd’s intake is below or above target intake levels, then you know it’s time to adjust.

The following calculation can help you measure herd intake:

(Pounds of supplement distributed ÷ # cattle) / # days supplement was available

When making this calculation, don’t forget that calves will consume some supplement as well.
If a supplement is not being consumed at target intake levels, it’s time to start troubleshooting. What is the forage quality? Where is the feeder located? Have there been weather challenges? What is the overall feeding program?

Managing cattle supplements

If consumption is a challenge, there are strategies you can implement to help achieve the desired intake.
Here are a few tips:
  • Look for a high-quality supplement that includes protein, energy, calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals.
  • Start supplementing early to ensure cattle requirements are being met. If you wait too long to supplement and cows must play nutritional catch-up, you may experience supplement overconsumption.
  • Initially, place supplements near a water source or in loafing or grazing areas. Cattle frequently visit those spots, giving them more opportunity to consume as they adjust to using the supplements. As the cattle become more comfortable with supplements, you can gradually move supplements further from those areas to entice them to graze underutilized pasture.
  • Ensure fresh, cool water is available, preferably in the shade during the warm, summer months. As temperature and humidity rise, cattle will require more water. Poor water quality, or lack of water, can cause cattle to go off feed quickly, which can limit feed intake and overall cattle performance.
  • Do not move a full bulk feeder. The feed may pack, which can compromise flow, especially if the feed is oily.
  • Clean feeder troughs regularly to remove any compromised product and help keep product fresh. When it rains, feed behind an adjustable gate can become wet, causing feed to swell, and preventing flow of fresh feed. Removing wet feed will also prevent mold and rot.
  • For supplements with Intake Modifying Technology,® consumption will adjust with changes in forage quantity and quality. Expect higher consumption with lower quality/quantity forage and lower consumption with higher quality/quantity forage. Be aware that in times of lower quality/quantity forage, cattle may consume supplements rapidly.

Here are some general rules of thumb for self-fed cattle product:

Wind and Rain® Storm® Mineral:
  • Put fresh, non-medicated* mineral out once per week.
  • Use a covered mineral feeder to help protect the mineral.
  • Know if your mineral is complete or non-complete. Complete minerals include salt, which helps drive intake.
Accuration® Block or Tub Supplement:
  • In contrast to a plastic tub, blocks have corrugated cardboard sides. Initially, in smaller pastures, more than one big block can be placed in a feeding location. When consumption is determined, then the blocks can be relocated or separated.
  • Cows per block is a function of block size and pasture size.
    • 500 lb. block: One block per 20 to 25 cows
    • 200 lb. block: One block per 10 to 15 cows
Accuration® Liquid Supplement:
  • All storage tanks and lick tanks must be cleaned prior to adding liquid.
  • At the end of the feeding season, tip tanks on their sides so the remaining liquid will flow out from the wheel slot. This prevents the remaining liquid from gelling, separating or molding inside the tank and keeps rain water from entering the tank.
  • Accuration® Liquid is a suspension product. Without agitation, it can become thicker over time, so it is important to move the liquid on a regular basis to maintain the free-flowing state. If forage quality is meeting cattle requirements and liquid intake is low, it is a good practice to move the lick wheels manually. That should be done weekly to keep the product from thickening in the tank.
Driving cattle performance
No matter the product form, a self-fed supplement should not be approached with a “set it and forget it” strategy. Small things like adjusting tub location and cleaning out a feeder can work together to help you achieve desired intake levels. And more desirable consumption can, potentially, lead to improved cattle performance.

Learn more in this Guide to Cattle Grazing with Supplements.   

Does your nutrition program stack up? Find out with a Proof Pays feeding trial.

*Medicated mineral should be hand-fed according to the label.