Yes ma’am or sir, there are lots of rules in the cattle and land business. There are several rules that get tagged as Rule No. 1. But the list is topped by one rule which states “Do No Lasting Harm”. Pain often leads to gain. Death does not.
Page 115 of Walt Davis’s book “How Not to Go Broke Ranching” explains a part of Rule No. 1 that needs to be burned into the cerebral cortex of each of us cattle ranchers/farmers. Cattle feeders should have it fire branded on the back of hands as well as minds.
Following one simple rule can avoid a world of hurt to your cattle herd.
The part of Rule No. 1 that I am talking about is “Don’t Make Sudden Changes in Cattle Diets.” Sudden, drastic shifts in rations and/or forage move animals toward a dangerous health cliff.
Remember that cattle do not digest forage or feed. The bugs (mostly bacteria) do the forage digesting and the cattle digest the bugs.
Bacteria that digest the sugars and simple starches found in grain are not the same as the bacteria that digest the sugars and simple starches found in cool season plants and grasses, and are not the same as bacteria that digest the more complex starches (cell wall cellulose) of warm season grasses. Different still are the bacteria that digest woody plants.
The different bacteria needed to digest the various feedstuffs are present in a healthy ruminant (cow). But the numbers vary depending on what the animal is consuming. When feed changes the bacterial species number changes and this change needs time as its major cushion. Major changes need 18-30 days to safely occur.
Fast forage changes especially when moving to higher sugar and simple starch grains, cool season plants, and other immature grasses result in a tremendous ‘kill off’ of rumen organisms (bacteria and protozoa). Performance and animal health head south. Scours is frequently seen as is a lack of cud chewing. The cattle do not seem content. Bad boys (bugs) raise their heads. Clostridial perfringes can take cattle out in a matter of hours, but we can also open up several other ‘cans of worms’ that are expensive.
Plan and manage
Nature tends to work or move in what has been described by Montana’s Ray Bannister as ‘boom and bust’. Walt Davis and I believe and recommend that it is always wise to plan and manage in a way so as to cushion the boom and the bust when it comes to cattle. I think Bannister agrees.
Ionophores (Rumensin and Bovatec) are cushions for high sugar and simple starch feed and forage and cattle health. The same is true of long stem hay especially long stem warm season (C4) hay. The same is true for amounts and time.
Remember that cattle just do not handle sudden changes well if the change exceeds 15 to 20% of the dry matter intake or consumption. Changes from C4 based pasture to C3 based pasture are much tougher than changing from C3 to C4.
Related: Reviewing a few basics might help
Ionophores, C4 hay, and limited grazing time are all more than a good idea when moving cattle onto small grain or pretty fescue, rye grass pasture, etc. The old advice of “never move hungry cattle onto pretty pasture” has not changed. The same is true of grain feeding. Remember that cud chewers take the majority of a month to make successful feed changes.
Cattle health must be and is very important. My phone has been ringing regularly with questions, problems, and sometimes wrecks for most of the last 40 years. Lack of knowledge, planning, and execution are usually evident. The weather often gets the blame when the mirror would reveal the demon.
Optimal health may be less than a necessity; “pretty close” is where we likely need to be almost every day throughout the year. Setting goals for cattle health is a requirement of profitability. Annual profitability is a requirement of sustainability. Goals without execution are no more than dreams.
Walt Davis says that if we don’t know what we are doing it does not make a damn what we do. I agree with Walt but when it comes to cattle we had better know or be plugged into someone who does.
Out in the pasture cattle are made to move and what they ate yesterday needs to be real similar to what they eat today.
The ‘take home message’ for all of us is to think, learn, plan, execute and don’t forget the rules.
Think and grow rich.