When it makes sense to supplement

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

There are several areas where supplement feeding will have the biggest profitability impact on a cow/calf operation. These scenarios are familiar to most of you. Your situation, herd health and goals will dictate how you approach them, but in general terms, they are:

Cows that are pre-calving through breeding

How you manage cow nutrition during gestation through breed-back is a critical time for your return on investment. Proper nutrition during this time helps dictate calf health and performance. It also has an impact on herd efficiency (and maybe a cow’s lifespan) by influencing her ability to reproduce. Mature cows should maintain at least BCS 5. Younger cows or heifers that are still growing need an extra half to full score of BCS. Consider a minimum of 2 pounds per day of Breeder Cubes, even when forage quality is excellent. Farms often have forage resources that cover the energy and protein requirements of mature cows, but from calving through breeding, the cows’ nutrient demands markedly increase due to milk production. Ensure adequate supplemental feeding to correct nutrient deficiencies.

Cows in the last 60 to 90 days before calving

The goal during this time is to keep cows from losing significant body condition and promoting fetal growth. Supplement feeding during this time helps the cow begin cycling increasing her chances to be bred early and subsequently calve earlier. Feeding Ricochet for at least 60 days before calving gives cows colostrum denser in antibodies for the calf. Better colostrum gets the calf off to a stronger start and increases the odds that it will survive and stay healthy.

Late gestation is also a critical time for fetal programming—a time when the nutrients received impact the calf’s vigor as well as its life-long health and performance.

During the summer

Mineral and vitamin delivery need to increase because of diminishing nutrient content in standing forage, especially toward fall when plants are busy sending nutrients to roots to overwinter. Typical forage programs will probably provide ample protein and energy to meet cow requirements when grazing improved summer pastures. It is mineral and vitamins that you need to watch. Supplementing with minerals and vitamins during this time prevents the need for the animals to deplete body stores of a limiting nutrient. Use a feed-through growth regulator for fly control, an excellent product to offer is MFA Ricochet Fesq Max CTC-ALT. Just keeping the flies off has been shown to increase animal performance.

Late summer and fall protein delivery

Maintaining body condition goes a long way toward improving cow performance. As forages mature at the end of summer and fall, appropriate protein supplementation can improve forage digestibility and intake. That helps cows maintain BCS. Cow weight gain response can be significant once calves are weaned off the cow. Even small amounts of protein can boost fermentation in the rumen to better process forage grazed from low-quality pasture.


A common thought in some parts of the Midwest is that we are always just a week away from a drought. Because you never know when the drought will arrive or when it will leave, you have to be flexible with supplementation plans. Get out in front by keeping your cows in the best shape you can. Concentrate on the best females and work you way down. Remember that once cows have been nutritionally stressed for long periods of time, they are more likely to suffer disease, nutrient imbalances and toxicities. Plan your cull strategy accordingly.

Creep feeding

Those calves represent your paycheck. A good weaning transition is important. Cattle Charge is a good choice for a creep feed as is Full Throttle. Using a creep feeding program will help in this transition process, add weight to the calf and help prepare calves for upcoming challenges and stress. Provide calves with the nutrients they need for developing optimal immune function to deal with stress and to start on feed from day one

Growing calves: replacement heifers and stockers

For growing cattle, a supplement delivery of a feed additive simply makes sense. The approximate 10 percent increase in average daily gains from the delivery of these additives in addition to the nutrients that are supplied in a supplement makes this an easy addition to the top-five list. Supplements can be formulated for lush growing pastures or can include protein as forages mature to meet the needs of developing heifers and stocker cattle.