Cattle Feeding Basics: Time To Ponder Protein

Don't overlook protein when considering the nutritional needs of your cattle! From pasture to range cubes to complete ration mixes, you can provide protein in various ways.

by Ashleigh Krispense
PHOTO: jackienix/Adobe Stock

In my previous article, we began breaking down the basic nutritional needs of cattle. Specifically, we considered roughage. We talked about where it generally comes from and the process of cutting and harvesting it, as well as tips for storage and use later on. 

Moving on down the list of nutritional needs in cattle, in this article we’re taking a closer look at protein. Local farmer and rancher Todd Krispense spoke with us about some of the different sources and forms you can find protein in.

Cattle Protein Needs

Protein requirements can vary between animals. As he pointed out, a lactating cow will require a higher level of protein than a dry cow will. Likewise, if you’re feeding calves, they will also need a higher level of protein than their larger or more mature counterparts, as it is one of the building blocks for bone, muscle and so on. 

Some natural sources for protein can include alfalfa, clover, and soybeans (as well as other legumes), Todd notes. But protein can also be supplemented to your cattle in other forms, such as via protein tubs or range cubes/pellets (mainly made from grain byproducts). 

During the summer months, we typically haul groups of feeder steers out to pastures in the Flint Hills. There they will spend their days grazing grass and wandering around to their hearts’ content. When the time comes that there is less grass and they need to be brought back home to the farm, the animals will receive range cubes just about daily.

Range Cubes

Range cubes not only supplement protein animals might be lacking in their diet due to the dwindling grass supply, but they help get the cattle more used to and comfortable with walking into the catch pen.

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Before you know it, as the pickup enters the pasture and begins to honk, a swarm of bellowing, fly-swatting cattle will cluster around it. They watch eagerly as the range cube bags are torn open. The cubes are gradually dumped into a long line on the ground, and the cattle clump together as they begin munching.

Eventually, the cattle will be gathered up and placed in the catch pen before being loaded on a trailer and hauled home. 

Protein in Everyday Feed Rations

While these cubes are helpful for supplementing protein, they’re not used in the everyday feed ration for the cattle back on the farm.

On our farm, Todd shares that in the past alfalfa and soybean meal were used before switching over to distiller grains, which are a byproduct (or co-product) of ethanol. He also noted that brewers grains are another byproduct of beer or alcoholic beverage production. He shared that other examples of byproducts can be found in corn gluten feed (which comes from the production of corn syrup) or soybean meal (that which is left behind when soybeans are crushed in order to produce soy oil). 

Todd notes that today distiller grains are mixed right into the feed ration to create what you would call a complete ration—totally combined in the feed box. 

As you begin to pursue the appropriate feed ration for your own cattle, it’s important to keep in mind their various nutritional requirements. As Todd points out, it can be helpful to find a good nutritionist to help educate you. Before you jump right in, do a little research of your own so that you can understand some of the basic terms and information that your nutritionist might share with you.

If possible, look for a trustworthy local rancher that would be willing to help you learn along the way. Happy feeding!

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