A NUTRITION imbalance can limit the functionality of a vaccine program, affect both cows and calves and have a ripple effect on the long-term productivity of a beef herd that stretches across multiple generations.
Prevention-minded beef producers should take the details of nutrition into account when making a year-round plan for herd health management.
Dr. Travis Van Anne, professional services veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. (BIVI), has seen the important role nutrition plays in the overall success of a beef operation and its long-range herd health protocol. It is important to compile all of the bottom-line costs and compare them against the likely return for both feed and vaccines.
"When nutritional deficiencies lead to weaning a light, unhealthy calf from an open cow, it creates a lot of big problems for you and your banker," he explained. "Their health is compromised; their ability to respond well to a vaccine program is limited, and that can jeopardize the whole herd. Nutrition planning has to go hand in hand with health planning every year to protect success."
A cow needs to consume 2% of her bodyweight daily in adequate feed value, on a dry matter (DM) basis, in order to stay healthy; that means 30 lb. of feed each day for a 1,350-1,400 lb. animal when adverse weather is not a factor.
Alfalfa provides a high feed volume at an affordable price and often supplies 20% crude protein when routine feed analysis is performed, BIVI said. Cows feel full with this high-quality roughage and are more able to produce heat during times of cold stress.
Nutritional options like poor-quality hay or residues with lick barrels can also extend other low-quality feed choices but can cost significantly more than alfalfa or grass-based feeds on a per-unit basis. While convenient, they may not provide the same level of protein to every animal, but when hay prices are on the rise, lick barrels can be a good way to help balance feed and provide key nutrition, BIVI said.
Van Anne noted that the price of hay is 85% correlated to the price of corn, so as one increases, the other will too. He anticipates that hay supplies in some areas will be short in 2013 while prices stay high.
With increasing fuel prices, freight costs for getting feed to the ranch are becoming increasingly expensive. Costs can run as high as 50 cents per minute to run a loader tractor or a three-quarter-ton pickup, including fuel, to get feed out to the herd. Producers also need to account for shrink, waste, delivery and processing costs, which greatly affect the price of the feed the cow is actually consuming.
"It's easy to see the price on a range cube or bale of grass hay and think that's all producers need to know," Van Anne said. However, "they also need to think about delivery costs. Hay purchased at $150 per ton may cost $250 per ton on a DM basis, delivered to a cow's mouth, when all the factors are considered. It's an investment worth making if it strengthens the vaccine program and the overall health of the animal and the productivity of the herd when it's handled correctly."
Producers will have to carefully consider the price of feed. It may not be in their best interest to continue feeding high-priced hay or feed. They may want to sell down to a herd size that allows for limited hay needs and saves pasture health as well as herd health. This may mean selling half or more of the cows and waiting three years to repopulate.
Crunching the numbers when it comes to nutrition is an integral part of a herd health program, and veterinarians can help build a program that's right for a particular operation.