Now is the time of year that producers finalise their key decisions for the summer. When is the best day for bulls to go out this year? Do the first calf heifers need a boost, or are they on track? Should weaners be sold during the wet, or held for another season and grown out further?
One question often forgotten or dismissed by producers is the summer supplementation plan. Lush green pastures are typically high in energy and protein, resulting in high weight gains over the wet season. Coming off the end of a hard dry season, these gains are especially obvious, and as a result producers often do not see the benefit in supplementing over summer when cattle are already achieving greatly increased weight gains. Unfortunately this results in cattle not reaching their full growth potential over summer, and therefore profits have also not been maximised.
Why should I supplement phosphorus to my cattle when I have been providing supplement all winter and gains are already improved on green feed?
With the recent and much needed boom in cattle prices, producers will most likely be making more profit this wet season, whether a supplement is provided or not. However, in an increasingly hard industry it is arguable that there has never been a better time in the last 3 decades to take advantage of cattle prices and focus on maximising overall profits. If your cattle are performing at 80% of their potential this wet season, this is great, but why not aim for 100%, when the profits are there and waiting to be taken advantage of?
It is no secret that phosphorus is the number one limiting nutrient during the wet season. Whilst it is well known that phosphorus is crucial for good conception rates, milk production and calving rates, the importance of phosphorus for weight gains is often grossly underestimated. Even on what is considered ?not phosphorus deficient?۪ country, it can be hard for young growing cattle to consume enough phosphorus to achieve their full live weight gain potential.
Feeding a phosphorus supplement during the wet is the best way to ensure cattle have the nutrients needed to reach these full potential. It is essential that phosphorus and calcium are supplied in the correct ratio in order to avoid causing bone problems, and as such, Top Country?۪s supplements always contain a balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio.
What else is in the supplement and what will it do for me?
In addition to phosphorus, Top Country?۪s wet season supplements also contain sulphur which will help boost rumen function and microbial reproduction. More microbes mean cattle are able to break down feed faster, consequently eat more, and therefore gain more in the same time frame. Sulphur is also a great tool in limiting the impact of biting insects, which means that cattle will be busy with their heads down eating rather than trying to rub off buffalo fly.
A balance of the trace minerals is always incorporated in Top Country?۪s supplements. This mix provides potassium, sodium, copper, cobalt, iodine, manganese, selenium and zinc. Requirements for trace minerals are directly linked to growth, and therefore increase as growth rates improve. Deficiencies in trace minerals can be very hard to identify, and can affect absorption of other minerals such as phosphorus, calcium and magnesium.
Minerals can be quite bitter in flavour, especially compared to the lush green pasture available for grazing, therefore required consumptions can be hard to achieve. To overcome this problem we use protein meals as a carrier for these minerals, which has been very effective in achieving the desired consumptions. Whilst the protein content of these meals is not important on green feed like it is during the dry season, it is the slow breakdown qualities of the meals that also provide a huge benefit. The meals are able to slow down the rate of passage in the rumen, which stops the animals from scouring on the lush green pasture. When an animal scours it means that the feed is passing through the rumen too quickly, and as a consequence the animal doesn?۪t get a chance to absorb and utilise all the nutrients before they pass out the back end. Essentially, scouring is lost nutrition, and therefore lost productivity. Top Country has found that combining magnesium with protein meals has been a very effective method of slowing down the rate of passage, and therefore allowing the animals to get the most out of the paddock nutrition.
Do steers and dry heifers need phosphorus too?
It is well known that phosphorus deficiency can have a negative impact on your breeding herd, through lower conception rates, increased abortions, decreased milk production and therefore a lower branding rate. However it is still not well known that young, growing dry cattle also have important requirements for phosphorus. Studies by the MLA have shown that growing cattle require at least 9 grams of phosphorus for every kilogram of live weight gain they put on through bone and muscle growth, and this figure can double during the wet season. A 400kg steers maintaining weight over the dry season requires 7 grams of phosphorus per day, but during the wet season, if the steer is to achieve gains of 1.2kg/head/day, they require 22 grams of phosphorus/head/day (MLA 2012). Despite the increase in phosphorus in fresh green growth, stock are very unlikely to be able to obtain enough phosphorus to reach gains of their maximum potential without supplementation.
But can?۪t cattle draw on accumulated phosphorus reserves?
Another common query producers have is what ability the cattle have to draw on phosphorus reserves. The MLA has shown that cattle can mobilise up to 30% of the stored phosphorus reserves under extreme phosphorus deficient conditions, assuming they have a full phosphorus reserve to begin with. At the beginning, cattle can mobilise up to 10 grams phosphorus day (for lactating breeders), but this figure will decline as more and more phosphorus is mobilised and used. As the above figures show, although 10 grams a day will get steers and dry cattle through summer with some decent growth, it is far from the required amount if you would like them to reach their full potential. Therefore, whilst cattle can utilise their phosphorus reserves over summer, it can be a limiting factor for herd productivity and profitability (MLA 2012).
So how exactly is Top Country going to turn $1 into $4 for me?
The target intake for one of the highest costing wet season supplements is 200-300 grams/head/day, and at this intake the cattle will put on at least an extra 200-300 grams/head/day ON TOP OF their current gains. This will cost between 18c to 27c per head per day (let?۪s say, 23 cents if cattle are eating on average 250 grams/head/day). Therefore, for every $1 you spend, you will get at least an extra 1.305kgs gain on top of the current gains. Steer prices currently average around 316c for light, medium and heavies (Roma store report, Aug 25). Therefore, for every $1 spent, you will get $4.13 back. Keep in mind that this equation DOES NOT take into account the increased profits you make off your cattle achieving higher weights at a younger age.
If you intend to make the most the fantastic cattle prices this wet season please start planning now. Find out what we can do for you and call Top Country for an obligation free quote and do the maths for yourself (if you want ? or we can do it for you) and find out how we can help you maximise your profitability over the wet season!
Meat and Livestock Australia, Phosphorus management of beef cattle in Northern Australia, 2012, Chapter 5, Page 10, (available online).
Author: Jen Cook