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Things you should know about nutrition but were too afraid to ask

When it comes to proper cattle nutrition, seemingly infinite questions need to be answered. Dusty Abney, cow/calf nutritionist at Cargill Animal Nutrition, says one key to figuring out what works best for your herd is asking for help, even if you aren’t sure you need it. 

“It’s OK to feel a little foolish,” he says. “If you feel a lot foolish because you didn’t ask a question you needed to ask, that’s going to cost you money.” 

In a recent session at the 2022 Cattlemen’s Convention & NCBA Trade Show, Abney and other industry experts shared some questions they deal with as well as others you should consider asking.

Why is dry matter content important in feed?

Among the many questions Abney addresses, understanding dry matter content is one he fields frequently. Dry matter is an indicator of the amount of nutrients available to an animal in a particular feed. Livestock need to consume a certain amount of dry matter per day to maintain health and production. It’s also why Abney says it’s critical in an animal’s diet – even if it’s just hay – and adds that it’s important to measure the percentage of water content in dry matter.

“If you have 28 grams of potato flakes and add 112 grams of water to make instant potatoes, and then divide the flakes by water content, you realize the dish contains about 20% dry matter and 80% water,” Abney explains. 

While water doesn’t add much in terms of cost for the potatoes, it doesn’t add calories either. The same is true when considering feed types. “Measuring wet and dry matter is important to consider, when determining both nutritional value and cost value,” Abney says. 

How do I creatively stretch grazing resources?

Despite increasing herd sizes, the amount of land farmers have to work with isn’t growing. To stretch grazing resources, Vanessa Corriher-Olson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension forage specialist, says keeping both the quality and quantity of forage up is the ultimate goal. Having a pasture that can provide a full year of forage – either through grazing time or baled hay – is ideal.

Most ranchers have many goals they want to achieve with their land and evaluating what they already have will best help them meet those goals, Corriher-Olson says.

“The cheapest thing we can do within our forage domain and fertilizer management is soil testing,” Corriher-Olson says. “A routine soil analysis, at least from most labs, is very inexpensive and can range anywhere from $12 to $20 per sample.” 

The analysis can then be used to plan future steps. Whether it’s trying an alternate feed source like cornstalks or wheat straw or planting fescue, a soil test can help a producer determine what will and won’t work best in an operation.

“Compared with other parts of the state, my environment is very different based on soil types and rainfall,” Corriher-Olson says. “How I manage my forage system will be very different from those in other locations within that state.” 

Which tech tools are best for improving grazing management?

As machinery becomes more technologically advanced, so does every part of the farm. Yet, that technology doesn’t have to be fancy or complex, and it can fit in the palm of your hand. Jacob Gilly of Farmland Trust and Clark Roberts of the Noble Research Institute share some of their favorite grazing management tools that replace pen and paper. 

Gilly says tech tools assist with a lot of challenges farmers face every day. They often have limited information for planning purposes, are restricted by time, vary in their ability to complete a task, and sometimes struggle with capturing value in their records. Technology can offer solutions. 

There are four apps Gilly finds useful: TagMax, CattleMax, Stocker1, and PictureThis. From scanning an animal’s RFID tag to managing your herd from your desk, each app offers a different service.

However, Gilly says to remember that you get out of technology what you put into it.

The technologies Roberts likes include Agriwebb, Pasturemap, and MaiaGrazing. Each offer pasture management features, with varying levels of record-keeping and grazing-planning abilities. 

“Ultimately, pick what fits best for you. There are strengths to all of these programs,” Roberts says. “Whatever app you select, ensure that it’s one with a whole lot of functionality.”

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