SE Colorado Range Plant Quality Database and Supplement Formulation Program
The project was designed to formulate supplements for cattle in southeastern Colorado. The persistent drought prompted many ranchers to reduce stock and the project coordinator to seek a no-cost extension in 2002.
Beginning in June 2003, four cooperating producers and interim project technical advisor Mark Thorne developed a standard sampling protocol to monitor rangelands and obtain representative samples of cattle diets. Samples, taken across several different rangeland sites on five ranches, were analyzed for macro and micro minerals as well as crude protein and energy. Current technical advisor Tim Steffens advised the producers how to sample their ranches so the full range of range sites were represented during each sampling period.
So far, the project has helped producers see the timing and magnitude of change in forage quality in the late summer and early fall so they can wean calves or ship yearlings in a more timely fashion. One mineral supplement has been formulated for the summer/early fall season for lactating cows. Another formulation will be calculated for dry cows for the same period.
• Determine quality of cattle diets throughout the year in southeastern Colorado as it is affected by season, range site (soils) and climate
• Make the information available to producers in the region so they can better fit their production cycles to the availability of forage quality
• Formulate accurate feed and mineral supplements based on these forage analyses
The sampling so far shows possible significant differences in forage quality, even within a range site, based on soil parent material and possible past erosion. There is also significant variation among range sites, although, given the level of chemical analysis because of limited funds, it’s difficult to determine whether that’s because of differences in species composition or soils.
As sampling progresses, other formulations will be calculated for both lactating and dry pregnant cows based on when forage quality changes significantly. The formulations will be presented to several feed mills in the region to help cooperating producers receive bulk purchase prices. Sites that lie outside the range of values will have separate formulations. This should allow producers to customize supplements to better meet their animals’ requirements at a cost lower than commercial supplements. The supplements will be used for at least a year then adjusted as needed. Once formulations for the region are refined they will be made generally available.
As outreach, cooperating producers will publicize the efficacy of the supplements for their herds as a way to help other producers in southeastern Colorado supplement mineral and protein needs of their cattle more economically.
While it is difficult to estimate mineral needs until forage analysis through the year is completed, it is anticipated that these mineral supplement will be significantly less expensive than commercial supplements, which are calculated for wide geographic regions with some margin for error and contain minerals like selenium that are not lacking in the region’s soils. The formulations that evolve from this project will meet the animals’ needs at least as well as do commercial formulations, so performance should be similar or slightly better.
In addition to a direct benefit to producers, formulating supplements locally keeps more dollars circulating in the local rural communities.
Further, because the mineral supplements will contain protein, when necessary, producers will be able to reduce their spending on protein supplements.
Finally, the dramatic documentation of how and when forage quality changes may encourage producers to alter calving schedules to match animal nutrient requirements with peak nutrient quality, which could reduce the need for supplements and increase profits.
RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
It may be useful to conduct forage analysis during a year of more normal rainfall. It might also be beneficial to sample individual species through the year to see how much each contributes to diet quality at different times of the year to better evaluate areas with different species composition.
The results will be presented in regional livestock publications and through various extension venues using producers involved to illustrate financial, husbandry and production benefits; to show how changes in forage quality affect herd productivity; and to show how changing calving and weaning dates can decrease supplementation costs and increase the flexibility of marketing calves.
Western Center for Integrated Resource Management
Colorado State University
Ft. Collins, CO 80523