Angus at Work

Are You Asking the Right Cattle Nutrition Questions?

June 29, 2022 Angus Beef Bulletin Season 1 Episode 11
Angus at Work
Are You Asking the Right Cattle Nutrition Questions?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

There are a lot of details in cattle nutrition, and it's ok to admit you can't explain all of them, even if you understand the general concept. If someone asked you about dry matter intake, could you explain it? How about the differences between concentrations and amounts? Nutritionist Dusty Abney sat down with Kasey to dig into the details of cattle nutrition and make sure you're asking the right questions.

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Read more about this topic, check out "Questions You Should Ask More Often." 

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Welcome to Angus at Work. I'm your host, Kasey Brown. Have you ever known about the general concept of something but when you're asked a specific question about it, you don't really have an answer? Or have you been in a situation where the conversation blows right through that subject, so you want to save face and don't really want to ask about it?

 

Well, cattle nutrition is one of those areas with plenty of concepts that could trip you up. So we're going to dive right in with Dr. Dusty Abney about things you need to know about cattle nutrition but have been too afraid to ask.

 

Today's episode is brought to you by the Certified Angus Beef's Feeding Quality Forum and we want to thank them for their support of the podcast. So let's dig in. Dr. Abney, tell me about your background in the beef industry?

Dusty Abney:

That's a good question. So I grew up on mostly a horse ranch. My mom and stepdad got into cattle a little later in my life and then they also owned and operated, and still do, a feed and fertilizer business, little custom mix mill in East Texas. They also spread fertilizer and sell retail feed and so my stepdad was pretty instrumental in getting me involved in those sorts of things. But I've been around agriculture my entire life. I can't escape it.

Kasey Brown:

Excellent. So what made you interested in specializing in nutrition?

Dusty Abney:

Originally I wanted to be a repro phys guy but I just wasn't weird enough. So Dr. Dan Thompson that used to have the RFD-TV show and now he's the dean at Iowa State. He was my original master's professor and he steered me a little bit more in the direction of nutrition. I felt like it was a good fit and so that's what I followed in my master's and then on into my doctorate.

Kasey Brown:

Oh, cool. Tell us what about your position can help cattleman the most?

Dusty Abney:

I think it's more just having a specialty. So we talked a little bit today that most people have an accountant to handle their taxes, unless they're super geniuses or headed to the federal penitentiary, that's what they're doing these days. So most people will go to the doctor and let them see to their medical needs, same thing with a veterinarian. And so the more progressive cattle people have a nutritionist or at least have a resource that they can call. They may not have a specific nutritionist but they have a company they can call or extension folks they have a good relationship with and that's how I work with people.

Kasey Brown:

Well, that's great. Well, we talked about things we need to know but we're a little scared to talk about because we don't want to be wrong. Right?

Dusty Abney:

Sure.

Kasey Brown:

But the only way to grow is to ask questions. So one of the main topics you started with today was why should we care about dry matter? Can you tell me a little bit about why it seems so simple and how we can misunderstand it so easily?

Dusty Abney:

Well, what a more simulating podcast topic than dry matter. I'm sure that people were just on the edge of their seat just can't wait to hear about dry matter. But it's such a core concept to everything that we do.

Dusty Abney:

If we understand how much moisture is in something, then we understand how much of it we should feed, how much should we include in a ration, how much should it cost, how to compare cost between things? Dry matter is basic in everything we do in nutrition.

Dusty Abney:

And even the folks like I said today, even the folks that only feed hay, if you understand anything about dry matter and hay that comes into how good a job did you do putting up your hay? How did you store your hay? How much waste did you have? Did you have fermentation happen in that hay bale you didn't mean to because you put it up too wet? Did you buy hay that was too wet and then it dried down later and you lost that through shrink?

Dusty Abney:

So even the folks that may not think that it's a very important topic and that it doesn't impact them very much, they still have to write a check for that sort of thing more often than they'd like to think about.

Kasey Brown:

Right. Because you talked about byproducts, they can be a good deal but only if you decide or figure them on a dry matter basis. So you're comparing apples to apples.

Dusty Abney:

Certainly.

Kasey Brown:

So how do we get to a dry matter basis? And we don't have to dig into math. But how do we start to calculate that?

Dusty Abney:

Basically, you need to have a way to figure out how much water is in that. Generally, that's going to be taking a sample and putting it in an oven for a specific amount of time, weighing the sample before you put it in there, weigh it when it comes out and you drive the moisture off of it. And that difference is the moisture content and what's left over is the dry matter. So that's how you would do it. You can actually do that.

Dusty Abney:

There are ways to do that in the microwave. Several extension services have good sites on that. One of the innovative ways we've seen in the last several years is people using air fryers, believe it or not. Now most people don't need to do that, especially most smaller cow-calf producers.

Dusty Abney:

But what they can do is send a sample off to their local extension service or to a commercial lab and dry matter will be one of the first things they'll see on their analysis sheet.

Kasey Brown:

Excellent. It depends on how things are presented, whether it's more calorie dense or which isn't, because water has no calories, right?

Dusty Abney:

Right. Actually, we burn calories if water's cold and you're drinking, just your body has to warm it up. But yeah, it's either zero or negative are the two amounts of calories that water has.

Kasey Brown:

So we need to get them on apples to apples on the same page to make sure which is the better buy. Dehydrating things, why there are price differences? Can you talk to that a bit?

Dusty Abney:

Sure. One of the examples I used today was wet distillers’ grains versus dry distillers’ grains. And in that specific example, the wet distillers’ grains on a dry matter basis were a better buy on a cost per dry matter ton basis.

Dusty Abney:

You also have to take into account there, do you have the room to store them? Will you go through them fast enough so they don't mold and turn funny colors? Can you handle them because wet is different than dry in an infrastructure way?

Dusty Abney:

But the reason they're more expensive dried than wet is it takes energy whether that be propane or electricity to heat that stuff up to drive the moisture off to get it to that dryer consistency.

Dusty Abney:

One thing I didn't talk about that I should have, was even dry distillers’ grains have probably, I'd say 11% to 13% moisture in them depending on where they come from. So most bag feeds are going to have that same kind of a dry matter moisture kind of a ratio too. Whereas the wet may be 60%, 70% moisture.

Dusty Abney:

So getting all that moisture driven off of that product costs money and so the people that do that strangely enough expect to get paid for that. And also that makes it a more viable product, a more usable product over a larger distance because you're not paying to haul water. You can haul more dry matter tons per truckload for the same weight.

Kasey Brown:

Excellent. That's really important to know. Another thing we talked about this morning was the difference between energy and protein. Can you elaborate a bit on that?

Dusty Abney:

So a lot of people get those two conflated in their mind just because protein may be the first thing they see on a feed tag. And so protein is important. We talk about protein supplementation a lot. Protein supplementation supports energy intake but they're two different things.

Dusty Abney:

Energy is calories. That may come in the form of fat or starch or more complex carbohydrates but it's calories. Now you can use protein to make energy in the body but it's hugely inefficient. I saw the Atkins diet this morning in my talk and the same thing goes for cattle. They can break down all the bugs in the rumen and can break down protein to make energy but it's hugely inefficient. And so we'd much rather they use either fiber or starch or something like that as their energy source.

Dusty Abney:

Protein is more, more structural and more functional proteins, those sorts of things. So enzymes, muscle, those sorts of things are more what protein does in the body. So energy, what I said today in the presentation, was energy burnt, protein built. That's not always 200% true. But for a mental division between those two nutrients, I think it's pretty decent.

Kasey Brown:

Absolutely. And you mentioned that a good steak has both of these, right? We can't shortchange one of them.

Dusty Abney:

No, if you had a steak that was nothing but protein, it'd be a pretty dry steak. We've got to have that energy in there in the form of fat or intramuscular fat to marbling to make that steak taste good and to make it a more nutritious meal. We need fat. I don't know if anybody remembers that or not. But fat's not totally the devil. It's all about amounts.

Kasey Brown:

Right. It's all about balance, right?

Dusty Abney:

Balance. I might have mentioned that a time or two.

Kasey Brown:

Just a couple times. So what causes animals to gain or lose weight?

Dusty Abney:

That's one of my favorite topics as a skinny guy. Basically it's math and calories. You have a specific clerical requirement just to maintain your body weight. If you consume more than that, you're going to gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than that, you're going to lose weight.

Dusty Abney:

In a growing calf that's a little bit more complicated. I didn't go into that in very much detail today. But if you have requirement for maintenance over above that, you have a requirement for growth. And then if you're going to have some surplus energy, some fat laid down, you've got to have energy over and above that.

Dusty Abney:

So we can have a calf that grows pretty well at, call it two pounds a day or something like that. But if we don't provide the right amount of energy and the right nutrients in there, you may have a calf that doesn’t marble very well because he's not putting that surplus energy down in the form of fat.

Kasey Brown:

Got you. So another thing you mentioned was concentrations of these are not amounts. You talked about how the numbers on the feed tag can look bigger than we may think they are. Can you talk to that a bit?

Dusty Abney:

Sure. So the example I used today was let's say we had a feed that was 10% fat, that sounds really great. And a lot of people have really keyed in on fat and we in the feed industry are as much to blame on that as anybody because we play what are called tag wars. "Look, how much better my feed is because mine's a 10% fat and theirs is only an 8% fat. So mine is obviously better."

Dusty Abney:

It's really about how much does that cow eat? It's a very famous thing that's said in feeds and feeding classes across the United States and the world is that cattle don't eat concentrations, they eat amounts.

Dusty Abney:

Basically, let's say a 1,200 pound cow eats two pounds of that, 10% fat ration. So 10% of two pounds, she ate two tenths of a pound of fat. That would be a fair amount of fat for you and I, not a huge amount. But a fair amount for a 1,200 pound cow, it's just a rounding error. So it felt like we did something really good there. We picked something that had really high number in that spot on the feed tag. But the amount we put into the animal was negligible as far as how that animal went through its day and whether it gained or lost weight.

Kasey Brown:

Got you. So you talked about, how do we know what the best metric is when we're looking at feed tags? Can you talk to that a bit?

Dusty Abney:

Sure. I'd listed four there. I hope I can remember them. I was cheating because I have my slides out today. But basically, it's a cliche and I hate to even say it out loud and I hate to say it again today. But you can't manage what you don't measure. I hate it a lot because it's really true and every manager I've ever worked for likes to remind me of those things.

Dusty Abney:

So the first one I listed was cost per ton and that's everybody's favorite number. I bought this, I got a great deal on this. Hey, I paid this much per ton or these range cubes or whatever they may be.

Dusty Abney:

And cost of ton is a good metric if you're comparing two identical feed steps. So if you're buying ingredients for your background and yard, and you're looking at dried distillers’ grains and they line up on their guarantees and they're the same, then let's look at cost per ton.

Dusty Abney:

When we compare things that are not similar and we compare them on a cost per ton basis if we looked at a 37% range cube and a 20% range cube, the cost on those per ton, they should be different. They should not be the same. So comparing those two on that basis is probably a mistake. If you're just making your decision purely based on that, you're probably going to make the wrong decision if you're buying for protein.

Kasey Brown:

Got you. So let's talk about cost of gain.

Dusty Abney:

Sure. And that's the one that sounds simple and is fairly simple but I think people get a little lost in the math. Sometimes long division can be a little rough on some of us, myself included.

Dusty Abney:

But cost to gain, if we're feeding our own calves, whether we're growing calves or whether we're finishing calves, if we're doing that on our own place and not really charging ourselves labor or we're doing that in a different place on the spreadsheet, cost to gain can be a great way to compare a couple of different feeds or a couple of different programs.

Dusty Abney:

This one's a buck 10 and this one's a dollar 25. Well, the dollar 10 may be the better choice. Again, are they getting to the same end point in the same amount of time? Does it meet our needs? Are there labor differences? But it's a good comparator for those kinds of scenarios.

Kasey Brown:

Okay. And then you went over cost per head per day.

Dusty Abney:

Yeah, that's a great metric in my mind for cows, in a lot of cases bulls just because what we care about is meeting that cows’ maintenance requirements and other requirements for the day generally. So again, it's an apples to apples comparison if we can do that with a tub versus with cubes, those sorts of things. But again, we got to make sure what we're comparing.

Dusty Abney:

Let's use protein supplementation as an example. So let's say we have two products. Let's say we have a product that's 25% protein, the product that's 50% protein. That's a lot of protein but we're just making numbers up here and let's say we want to feed a pound of protein a day. Well, it's going to take four pounds of the 25% product and it's going to take two pounds of the 50% product.

Dusty Abney:

So as long as we're feeding to the same amount of crude protein there, we can compare both those on a cost per head per day and that's a legal comparison in my mind. If we go outside of that and we look at something that we only feed a quarter pound of protein out of and we feed a full pound of protein out of something else, that's not a fair comparison. That's not an apples to apples comparison.

Kasey Brown:

Got you. And then you'd also talked about the cost per head over the feeding period.

Dusty Abney:

That's more of a feedlot kind of number. Some folks that did background some calves, that's still a pretty pertinent number for them as well, but that takes into account everything that happened. You're looking at your conversion, you're looking at your cost to gain. You're probably charging yourself yardage there. So you know that you had some labor, and time, and equipment and infrastructure involved in that. And so that's everything all wrapped into what unique package and it's a really good way to compare programs that way because it doesn't really matter.

Dusty Abney:

Let's say you limit fed one set of calves or you ran kind of a projection. That's what we call it at Cargill. If you ran a projection on a set of limit fed calves versus a set of calves that you fed ad-lib, okay, well, they came out differently. One's got a little more labor built into it. One may have fewer days on feed and it allows you to compare all those things at once and have it wrapped up in one tidy little bow in that cost over the feeding period number.

Kasey Brown:

Very cool. And you talked about these because they are decision making tools. I mean big part of nutrition is just how do we make the best decisions that we can for our cattle?

Dusty Abney:

Definitely.

Kasey Brown:

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Kasey Brown:

You mentioned ionophores and I had some questions about that. Can you talk to why you recommend ionophores? And then we'll get into my other questions.

Dusty Abney:

Sure. So ionophores are just, for those of your listeners that don't know or may be slightly familiar with the term, basically, we're talking about Bovatec® and Rumensin®, lasalocid and monensin, respectively there. So they are drugs legally and the way they work is they open up little holes in the cell walls of bacteria and that's as deep in that as I'm going to get. And it makes the bacteria work harder, the bacteria that we don't want to be as successful in the rumen and it makes them work a little bit harder. So basically what you get out of those products is you get a more efficient fermentation in the rumen.

Dusty Abney:

And my recommendation is unless somebody's on a natural or an organic program that specifically says they can't feed ionophore, I think it's a really great idea to feed ionophores to cattle. I've never seen a case where I was sorry I paid the money to feed ionophores.

Dusty Abney:

We can see, depending on the scenario, 3% to 7% to sometimes 10% improvement in feed efficiency and that's in these days even when costs aren't inflationary and going a little crazy. 3% to 10% is meaningful especially for something that costs pennies per head per day. You might also get some coccidiostatic properties from these ingredients. You have to be feeding them correct dosages but that goes for the feed efficiency as well. So that's all really well established. The data is really solid on those and to me, it's just a go-to recommendation. Unless you're in a program that specifically says you can't, my opinion is you probably should be feeding those.

Kasey Brown:

How are ionophores different than prebiotics? I guess my understanding of prebiotics was kind of that, that was its job to break down feed so an animal could use it more efficiently.

Dusty Abney:

So there's probiotics and there's prebiotics. Probiotics tend to be live products or the metabolites of live products. So Diamond V's for example would be a probiotic. A prebiotic would be some of the MOS products, the mannan-oligosaccharide products that are pieces of live, what used to be live tissues. They tend to work in the lower gut but they're not a live product. They're piece of those.

Dusty Abney:

The ionophores would be more of a, for lack of a better term, a drug or a chemical in that deal. And the response depending on direct fed microbial that you're talking about a probiotic that you're talking about, the responses in those can be variable. The ionophores tend to be more consistent.

Dusty Abney:

Now I gave you a range in improvement in feed efficiency earlier. That range is there because it's not always consistent. There is a range of responses that happen there. But I think they're more consistent than a lot of the probiotics. There are some great probiotics products out there but they tend to be a little more variable.

Kasey Brown:

Thank you for clearing that up because I thought of that when you were speaking and that makes sense. Let's switch topics just a little bit. Let's talk about rumen bugs.

Dusty Abney:

Okay. That's my favorite topics. Nobody else's but mine.

Kasey Brown:

That's okay. You said we feed the bugs and they feed the cattle. So let's talk about rumen bugs requirements and what we need to do to keep the rumen bugs happy.

Dusty Abney:

So they're living organisms. It's always interested me just how many of them there are in one milliliter of rumen fluid, you've got more bacteria and other microorganisms, fungi and protozoa than there are people on the face of the Earth. And when you think about there being 45 gallons of rumen fluid in an adult cow and the average adult cow, that's a lot of bugs in there. So we need to make them work for us and not against us.

Dusty Abney:

They are living creatures. They have nutrient requirements just like you and I do, just the cow does. If we meet the nutrient requirements of the bugs, we end up going a long way towards meeting the nutrient requirements of the cow.

Dusty Abney:

And then the bugs are interesting to me because they feed the cow in two ways. They feed the cow indirectly because they ferment the forage or the corn or whatever feedstuff that we put into the rumen into the cow.

Dusty Abney:

But then once they pass on out of the rumen and then into the small intestine, they themselves become food for the cow. This is the reason we didn't talk about this today because I had a limited amount of time. But that's the reason that we don't have to supply amino acids to adult bovine animals because the bacteria create those amino acids and they supply those to the cow.

Kasey Brown:

Cool.

Dusty Abney:

It is pretty cool if you're a nerd.

Kasey Brown:

I am too-

Dusty Abney:

Or if you want to be profitable in the cattle business. Either one.

Kasey Brown:

That's really cool. You talked about, what happens if we've got too much starch or not enough? Can you talk to that?

Dusty Abney:

Sure, and a lot of people are familiar with that. But too much starch in a diet, especially a diet that doesn't have enough roughage in it, is going to lead to acidosis. It's going to lead to some diarrhea, more what we would call an East Texas in scours and then eventually you can get into bloat and death. None of those are a good thing. By the time you notice any of those, those are all lagging indicators. By the time you notice any of that has happened, you've already got a problem.

Dusty Abney:

Even the animals that you don't know are acutely acidotic. So the ones that you can tell from those symptoms have a pH that's too low in the rumen because the bugs have had too much substrate that they can go crazy on and make too much acid. Even before that point, when they're subacutely acidotic we can have some issues there that can cost us some feed efficiency.

Dusty Abney:

That's when you see cattle that maybe they're not quite as loose as you might think a catheter diarrhea might be, but you can just tell them, they're just not quite. That's usually subacutely acidotic and that's costing us money.

Kasey Brown:

Got you. And then what happens if you've got too little protein?

Dusty Abney:

Too little protein, my example for that would be if we had a factory that built pickup trucks and we had mirrors, and engines, and beds, and doors and everything we needed to make 200 trucks a day but we only had enough wheels and tires to make 10 trucks a day. We're only going to make 10 trucks a day because we can't roll them out of there-

Kasey Brown:

Without all the parts.

Dusty Abney:

To make the new trucks. So it's a bottleneck. And so a lack of or a deficiency of protein or nitrogen in the rumen, the bugs are made of protein or nitrogen depending on how you want to look at it and so they want to make more of themselves. That's what they're doing when they ferment the feed that's in the rumen. If they don't have enough nitrogen, they can't make more of themselves and so the whole process slows way down.

Dusty Abney:

Low quality feed in a ruminant animal causes rate of passage, the speed at which feed moves through the gastrointestinal tract causes it to slow way down. And that may sound like a good thing, that they get more of a chance at that feed to digest it better but it's not because they don't have the tools to get done what they need to get done. And so again, that's a balance thing. You don't want rate of passage too fast, you don't want it too slow.

Dusty Abney:

But if we are in a protein deficient scenario in a pasture in East Texas this time of year in the wintertime, we've got dormant Bermuda grass out there. We can add some protein to that cow's diet and we get a double whammy out of there. Not only does she digest what she has eaten more thoroughly, she gets hungry more quickly and she eats more forage. And so we get more out of what she ate and then she eats more and then she gets more out of that. And so that's a really nice little feedback loop that helps us there. That's why we feed protein.

Kasey Brown:

Got you. And how can we tell if a cow needs more protein? How can she tell us?

Dusty Abney:

The hipshot, just go out there and look in the pasture way to do it, is really how tall are your cow pats? So a really tall cow pat that maybe two or three inches tall, that's a pretty good indication that maybe you've got a protein issue. Not always but in a lot of cases. One that's a lot wider and shallower, you could have too much protein. That's not generally a concern until we get into the Greenup phase in early spring and it's not anything that you can do anything about. So that's just one of those. It is what it is kind of deals.

Kasey Brown:

Got you. You gave a really great example of cattleman who is using Starbucks coffee cake with high input costs right now, we're looking for any type of alternatives. We can have great ingredients but we can still have a bad outcome. Can you talk about how do we balance some of those alternative feed stuffs that might be more available right now?

Dusty Abney:

Sure, and I love weird stuff. I love feeding weird stuff for a couple of reasons. Our morning's really cool. I've always been cheap and so it gladdens my heart to take something that somebody was going to throw into a landfill and feed it to cattle and produce food that's going to be on somebody's table. So that's a win for everybody in my opinion.

Dusty Abney:

The example I cited today was an old customer that had coffee cake that he had bought for next to nothing and it was a really cheap ingredient and it was a really great ingredient. It was not a great feedstuff and so they were actually protein deficient in that set of calves they were feeding it to.

Dusty Abney:

And we add some protein to the diet, balanced it in some other ways and improved their intakes, which was their major complaint about what they were doing without me before. And so just by making some minor tweaks in the diet, I made the diet more expensive but his cost to gain was much cheaper because the cattle ate more, they gained more and that's what drives a lower cost to gain. You dilute out the cost with a higher gain and so everybody won in that scenario.

Kasey Brown:

That's great. You talked about, everybody thinks of 3% of body weight and you said we should erase that. Why should we do that?

Dusty Abney:

So we're talking about intake just to be clear.

Kasey Brown:

Yes, thank you.

Dusty Abney:

And I don't know where that number came from, I don't know if somebody did some rounding way back when or just wanted a number that was easy for people to remember. But if you ask a lot of producers, not everybody. But if you ask a lot of producers what a little cow will eat every day, they'll tell you 3% of her body weight in a dry matter basis.

Dusty Abney:

I run into that a lot and that number is totally wrong. Very rarely will you ever see any animal in any class eat 3% of their body weight. If you were on really good wheat pasture or rye grass pasture or a small grain annual like that and the moisture was just right, where it wasn't too wet, but they couldn't eat enough of it but it wasn't so dry that the quality was bad, then maybe you'd approach 3%. But a lot of people would be very shocked if we could show them exactly what their cows ate every day.

Dusty Abney:

So in this dormant Bermuda grass pasture, what we were using as an example earlier, a lot of those pastures when you look at the numbers, the prediction equations would tell us, and those are pretty solid, they would tell us that those cows are eating 1.9% or less of their body weight today.

Dusty Abney:

We're going to use the prototypical 1,000 pound cow to make the math easy. Nobody's cows weigh a 1,000 pounds anymore. But instead of getting 30 pounds of dry matter that most people think she's going to eat, she's actually eating closer to 19 or 20 pounds dry matter and that's a huge, huge, huge difference.

Dusty Abney:

And that's where a lot of people lose body condition on those cows going through the winter and don't understand why. I've had people tell me, "Well, they've got all the hay they can eat." That's great but your hay is terrible. And so if you had all the lettuce you could eat, you would lose weight and that's basically what we're doing out here today.

Kasey Brown:

Got you. You talked about tolerance by cattle does not equate to performance with drought, and high inputs and everything going on right now. Can you talk a little bit about how we cannot just rough our cows through hard patches?

Dusty Abney:

Sure. So this is one of my favorite pet topics to talk about mainly because humans are great at pattern recognition. It's how we clawed our way to the top of the food chain because we recognize patterns. We're so good at pattern recognition that we fall prey to what's called false pattern recognition.

Dusty Abney:

So the example I used today was if you were watch Crocodile Dundee, he goes to the hotel in New York there and they turn on the TV for him and it's, I Love Lucy and he says that's the same thing that was on there when I looked at it 25 years ago. And his assumption is from his two observations that the only thing on television is I Love Lucy. Most of us know that's not true.

Dusty Abney:

So when we get into a situation where we either by choice or by necessity, have to short a cow of something, whether that be mineral or good clean water or protein or dry matter for that matter and we get away with it, I think that builds some false pattern recognition.

Dusty Abney:

Because again, I'm speaking from the heart here. I'm cheap as the day is long. I'm looking for ways to cut costs myself in my daily life. If I see something that I get away with for example an oil change, well, I'll just go over a couple of 1,000 miles on this oil change. That's not going to hurt me today. But over the life of my car, it's going to clog the oil galleries on my engine. It's going to mess up my lifters. Bad things are going to happen because I shorted that car on an oil change.

Dusty Abney:

And so we push cattle, maybe not even meaning to, and we get away with it and that builds that false pattern recognition. I get really scared about that because I don't get called into those situations until it's already been a wreck. And it breaks my heart to be going on somebody's place that I can tell that they poured their heart and soul into these cattle and something that would've cost them $20 a year let's say on that cow, they shorted her on it. They thought they got away with it but it came back and did bad things to them on reproduction or weaning weight or whatever metric you want to look at there and bad things happen.

Kasey Brown:

And you talked about again of an unintended long term consequence if we don't feed mineral. Can you talk to that?

Dusty Abney:

Sure. Again, that's something. Honestly, if you don't feed mineral this week and start again next week, that's not a big deal. If that becomes a habit though, that's where it becomes a problem because that's not going to show up in a week or a month. That's going to show up in six months or a year. It may not take it that long depending on what your antagonist situation looks like in your water or in your feedstuffs. You could see a problem more quickly than that but it will get you.

Dusty Abney:

Now if you don't keep good records, you might not ever know it happened. And so again, you'll just assume that everything's hunky-dory and going about your life and think, man, I saved that $25 bag on that mineral and everything's still going great. But you dropped 5% on your conception rate or you lost 10 pounds on your weaning weight and never found it. You never know what happened. And that's still dollars out of your pocket even if you didn't know they snuck out, they're still gone.

Kasey Brown:

Absolutely. Or you talked about prevention is way cheaper than treatment and we need a functional immune system and we get that through nutrition.

Dusty Abney:

Sure.

Kasey Brown:

Another part of nutrition is water. Can you talk to how that's the most important nutrient we can give them?

Dusty Abney:

Sure. And we learned in 2011 in Texas that, that was the rate limiting nutrient when we had to haul it everywhere because we didn't have any. Water's of huge importance. We see its effects more in the feedyard because it's easier to see the acute effects of low water intake or illness getting passed through the water, that sort of thing or antagonist in the water. But just as many cow-calf outfits have water issues more so probably than feedlots do, they just don't know about it.

Dusty Abney:

So sometimes you can do things about that. You can tap into some well water, maybe tap into community water. You have to weigh the pros and cons on what that costs. But you should at least look at it if you know your water quality is bad. The only way you're going to know your water quality is bad is to test your water. You heard me say, test your forage, test your water. It was all about test today. We're lucky I didn't have a math test and then at this time it was all said and done.

Kasey Brown:

Thank goodness.

Dusty Abney:

When you do test your water, you find out, do I have sulfur in my water? Do I have molybdenum in my water? Do I have some antagonist like those or iron that's going to tie up, even if I do feed a good mineral, that's going to tie up some of the stuff that's in my good mineral?

Dusty Abney:

And so we know that a lower quality water source is going to negatively impact us even to the extent where cattle will drink less and therefore eat less. You don't want water to be your rate limiting nutrient if you can help it.

Dusty Abney:

So while a lot of people, not nearly as many as I want to, do forage tests, nobody does a water test until they're in a wreck. And I think most people would be served especially if they're on a new place or a new piece of ground that they're leasing, look at somebody like coming from Valley Labs and get a water test kit from them and follow the instructions. Don't put it in a Coke bottle that you didn't rinse out to go and send it to them. Follow the instructions and send it in and let's see what they really got because we don't know what to do until we know what you've got.

Kasey Brown:

Right. And how much are water tests, forage tests? They might-

Dusty Abney:

Forage tests, $10 to $20. A water test, I haven't done one lately. I'd say a water test is probably $25 to $50. I'm probably missing that by quite a bit.

Kasey Brown:

But they're worth it?

Dusty Abney:

If they cost a $100, they're probably worth it because you're going to know what's going on there. The forage test if you're really cheap like I am, you catch the county hay show and enter your stuff in the county hay show and they'll generally test it for free.

Dusty Abney:

But my recommendation is don't just test your hay, test your forage a couple different times a year and build a database of, okay, well, this is what I expect for this time of year. You got to be strategic about that.

Dusty Abney:

Don't go out there to that piece of ground where the septic tank dumps out and sample. That's not indicative of your entire forage base. Go take samples across the pasture, mix them up together and then send that in. And do that over a couple of times the year and really get a feel for what your forge does over the course of the year and then you'll know what to do about your supplementation.

Kasey Brown:

And you left us with some ideas of, we need to learn math, or we need to use math really even if we're number averse, we just have to. Where can people find resources for developing proper nutrition for their cattle?

Dusty Abney:

Extension is a great place to start, especially if you're a smaller operator. The facts of the matter are Cargill can’t afford to send me to everybody that's got three cows and talk to them about their nutrition. Here's a little bit different. At Cattleman's College®, I can do a little more outreach and talk to some of the smaller operators in a big group like that. But Extension's open to everybody. So they're a great resource. Your feed company, local co-op, independent nutritionist, feed company nutritionist like I am. There's a whole gamut of people out there just waiting to help you.

Dusty Abney:

Now we expect to get paid. We're weird like that and that a good horse trades where everybody walks away happy with something they wanted. So I'm not going to go on somebody's place and have them buy our product that I'm not going to give them a good return on investment and nobody else in the industry is either.

Kasey Brown:

Excellent, but help is out there and we just have to ask for it.

Dusty Abney:

That's the hard part, that's the hard part. You've got to be vulnerable and you got to go and say, "Hey, I don't know everything there is to know about this. Can you help me?" And that's hard for all of us but I have to remind myself about that when I go ask my colleagues when I don't know the answer to something somebody asked me and I have to go ask them for help. But then it all comes back around. They eventually have to come and ask me something too.

Kasey Brown:

Perfect. That is an excellent way to wrap this up. But I do to end my podcast with some good news because we all know that cattle business is really a people business. So tell me something good that has happened to you recently, whether it's personal professional or both?

Dusty Abney:

Let's go personal.

Kasey Brown:

All right.

Dusty Abney:

So my daughter's 15, really proud of her. She takes Latin for fun. That concerns me a little bit. We decided she's either going to be a super villain or she's going to save the world. I don't know if she knows which.

Kasey Brown:

There are so many super villains who have doctorates.

Dusty Abney:

That's true and it's scary. It's a little scary. I'm not sure if I'm not going to go that direction at some point. But that's a really useful skill because when telemarketers call, she speaks Latin to them and they don't really stay on the line very long. So it is pretty good. And we're also learning to drive, she and I, and we have both survived up to this point and she hasn't learned any new words yet. So we're going to call that a win.

Kasey Brown:

Absolutely. Well, excellent. Well thank you so much for talking with me today. Thank you for your time. To get more information to help make Angus work for you, check out the resources to our print and digital publications in our show notes. We want to thank Certified Angus Beef's Feeding Quality Forum for their support of this episode.

Kasey Brown:

And really we want to hear from you. Let us know your ideas and comments at abbeditorial@angus.org. And be sure to share this episode with any other profit minded cattleman. Thanks for listening to Angus at Work.

 

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