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  • Karen Hiltbrand, American Angus Association

Finding Balance — When Cow Nutrition and Performance Meet

As the cow has evolved over the years, so has her nutrient requirements.

With time, change occurs and advancements in the beef industry are made. Since the 1970s, carcass weights have increased on average of six pounds per year, 80% of cattle are grading Choice or higher, and the environmental footprint has been reduced; all with the goal of meeting consumer demands and increasing the value of beef.

The cow has changed drastically since the ’50s, but Moore posed the question — “Are cows consuming the nutritional requirements needed to reach optimum performance?” These nutritional developments haven’t occurred by chance, as they have been the result of both genetic and mating decisions. Changing consumer needs have resulted in producers applying selection pressure in the areas of carcass weight, marbling and milk. Due to these pressures, cows have different nutrient requirements compared to cows thirty years ago.

“What does that mean? From a nutrient standpoint that means our cow needs more groceries to perform at a higher level,” Moore said. “If we have selected for milk and on average, I believe we have, we increase demands for energy not only during lactation but specifically outside of lactation for maintenance of organ tissue.”

The nutrition program at any operation should reflect the producer’s specific selection pressures. When developing a nutrition program, Moore said the three factors producers need to grasp are: to know your cow, know your environment, and know your situation. He added, as cow requirements change based on performance, their nutritional needs change.

“With a bigger and more productive cow comes more cost, and if we are not gaining more revenue, we really need to change our business model,” he said. “Nutrition should not be a cost, rather it should be an investment.”

It is important producers select females and make mating decisions that both fit and perform specific to their environment while still using the resources they have available to reach optimum performance. Chances are the grass cows have grazed on since the inception of an operation has not changed.

Moore asked, “What are you doing different to fit those cows’ growing needs?"

“We can’t decide where we are going if we don’t know where we’ve been,” Moore said. As the cow continues to evolve, the challenge remains that nutrition programs evolve as well. For more information or to watch the Cargill-sponsored Angus University Webinar, Evolution of the Cow, Evolution of Nutrition, click here.

Editor's note: Look to the 2021 August Angus Journal to learn more about evolving nutrition and what it means for your herd. Subscribe today!

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