Angus at Work

Precision Nutrition

August 31, 2022 Angus Beef Bulletin Season 1 Episode 15
Angus at Work
Precision Nutrition
Show Notes Transcript

The cattle industry has made huge genetic progress, but has nutrition made the same progress? ADM's Brian Fieser discusses the future of nutrition, how we're getting there, and what's available now.  He says, "When forage is limiting, every bite counts."

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Hello and welcome to Angus at Work. I'm your host, Kasey Brown. Today, we're going to be a little forward thinking, but don't worry, you'll still hear plenty of practical applications too. Think back to those pictures of belt buckle cattle in the fifties, and then those tall calves you couldn't see over in the seventies. We've obviously made a lot of genetic change rather quickly, but on the other hand, have we made those same strides in our understanding of nutrition? I sat down with Brian Fieser, with ADM, to talk about precision nutrition, how that can be a game changer, and how to optimize nutrition now. So let's dig in.

Kasey Brown:

Good morning, welcome.

Brian Fieser:

Morning.

Kasey Brown:

Tell me a little bit about your background with the beef industry?

Brian Fieser:

So, I grew up on a farm in south central Kansas, southwest Wichita. Grew up raising Simmentals, so we've made the conversion, they're all black. They're all crossed with Angus now. I moved home about four years ago to take over my family's commercial SimAngus operation. We do just enough seedstock, flushing cows, stuff like that to run up a pretty decent bill, but not a huge one, but we're primarily a SimAngus cow-calf operation now. So, got a five year old and a 18 month old at home.

Kasey Brown:

Hey, I do too.

Brian Fieser:

My five year old is desperate to start showing cattle, which is exciting and terrifying all at the same time.

Kasey Brown:

Is your five year old a boy or a girl?

Brian Fieser:

Boy. Yep. Five year old's a boy and the 18 month is a little girl.

Kasey Brown:

That's exactly like mine.

Brian Fieser:

She's 18 months going on 18 years. She's a little adult for her little body.

Kasey Brown:

How did you decide to specialize in nutrition? Tell me about your interest and how that started.

Brian Fieser:

You know, it's a funny story. I'm not sure what it says about me, but I was in college and I had a cousin who's a good friend of mine and he was in extension. And I thought that was really cool that he got to give people recommendations and make suggestions and stuff. And then about that same time, K-State came out with some research and it was feeding commodities to cheapen up rations and all that sort of stuff. And we adopted that sort of stuff. And I was like, well, that sounds kind of cool. I wouldn't mind being one of those people that gets to tell people how they can do things better, cheaper, be more profitable.

Brian Fieser:

And so I saw my cousin doing that stuff as a county extension agent, and I thought that was really cool. And I went and spent a day with him and we didn't do anything with cattle that day. It was, we were checking on worms and apple trees and I was like, whoa, I better rethink this because I'm not interested in worms and apple trees and stuff like that. So I did a little research. I was like, I need to specialize a little bit. So I got a master's degree. And I got my master's degree and I was like, that's pretty cool. I really like this. I really enjoyed that. So I decided I wanted to get a PhD in it. So once I'd gone down that rabbit hole, about as far as I could with a PhD, then I was... Time to go to work and start paying off student loans.

Kasey Brown:

It is amazing how many career options there are within ag. You can grow up on a farm and still be involved with cattle. But there's so many options out there.

Brian Fieser:

Yep.

Kasey Brown:

That's pretty cool.

Brian Fieser:

Yeah. Everybody gives me a hard time because my hobby and my job are almost completely overlapping. So they're like, you talk about cattle all the time. What do you do for fun? I'm like, I mean, cattle.

Kasey Brown:

Yeah.

Brian Fieser:

We'll go to a cattle show or a cattle sale. That's fine.

Kasey Brown:

It just means that you made the right choice. Right? Awesome. So tell me, we met last year at NCBA and you shared some really great information that I've still kept with me about amino acids and protein and how they work. Can you share that again?

Brian Fieser:

Sure. So, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. So all proteins are made up of the different amino acids and whether it's heart tissue, longissimus muscle, intestinal tissue, all of those things are different proteins with different combinations of amino acids to achieve the different tissues and stuff. So, what we've done nutritionally, and the term we use at ADM that we're gearing our programs around, is precision nutrition. So when you feed something to the animal, it's in there for a reason to serve a purpose and not fluff, no waste or anything like that. And so that's how we've approached the amino acid thing: can we get certain micronutrients, like amino acids, that the animal needs rather than feed it a lot of protein that then the rumen microbes have to break down.

Brian Fieser:

And the amino acids all have to be torn apart and put back together. Can we be more efficient by feeding the amino acid, the specific amino acids the animal needs that bypass the rumen and go straight to muscle creation or something like that. And so when we're able to do that, we let those animals achieve their genetic potential. And right now, with the explosion in all the DNA technology, our genetics are moving at warp speed. And our nutritional programs are more or less the same as they've been for the last 30, 40, 50 years. And so our genetic progress is outpacing our nutritional progress by light years. And so we're constantly trying to play catch up, trying to figure out how we can get more out of these new genetic freaks that we're raising compared to even just 20 years ago.

Brian Fieser:

So our product that we do is amino gain. We do a lot of bull development. It's one of those things that works on all cattle, because I don't think we've ever... Even common cattle today have a lot more growth potential than cattle did 20, 30 years ago. And so it works on all the cattle that we feed it to in a growing and developing phase. And then when you start doing it with bulls and females and stuff like that, it's just amazing. Because then you're working with the elite of the elite and the genetic deal and you can really see those cattle pop and respond when they get the nutrition that they don't otherwise get.

Kasey Brown:

Wow. That's really interesting. I love the term that you called precision nutrition. It seems like we're getting more precision ag is nothing new, especially on the crop side, but we're getting more into precision livestock.

Brian Fieser:

Yep.

Kasey Brown:

And that's a whole new frontier, which is really exciting. Tell me a little bit about how... Can you dig a little deeper? How do you get so precise with nutrition? And-

Brian Fieser:

It gets really complicated because the animal is...

Brian Fieser:

Their capacity to produce the nutrients they need, even if you don't feed it to them is amazing. You know what I mean? If you short an animal on calcium or phosphorus for a while that a cow can mobilize calcium phosphorus out of her bone to help bridge the gap in a short-term deficiency or something. So it gets really difficult. And that's why you really, to see it, you really end up needing to push these animals to the limit of their genetic potential. Because if you've got an animal that has the capacity to gain five pounds a day, but you're only feeding it prairie hay and 20% cubes, we're obviously not tapping into that potential. So that's one of the challenges is to be able to push those animals to their genetic potential.

Brian Fieser:

But even then within that, the struggle that we have is we've got two or three years of research on some pretty good genetically certified or genetically known red Angus cattle, feeder calves. And the challenge becomes we can take that information, but then does it apply to all the cattle in a 100,000-head feed yard? And so, that's where it gets tricky as we need to know the genetic capabilities of those cattle to know whether it's worth the extra effort, the extra investments to get the most out of them. And so it gets really complicated because especially when you get to these minute details, it's not one of those things you're going to see every single time you feed a set of cattle.

Brian Fieser:

And so part of it is figuring out... And even different stages of production like with the amino acids, it works amazing in growing and developing cattle up to say 1,000, 1,200 pounds, something like that because you're putting down so much more muscle they're growing at such a rapid pace. But if you did the exact same trial, say from 1,000 to 1,400 pounds, you're not going to see near as big of response. And so, historically, especially with the cattle industry, we've been — if you've got a square peg and a round hole, all you need is a bigger hammer and it'll go. And so, that's how you got 50, or 100,000-head in the feed yard, there's six rations or eight or twelve or whatever it is. But I mean, they all get the same series of them, even if some of them aren't necessarily capable of converting it and stuff like that. So the challenge is not only figuring out which cattle will respond to some of these micronutrients, but it's then even those cattle may only respond at up to 800 pounds or something like that. So, that when we get to precision nutrition and trying to feed every animal to its capability, the trade off, it's going to take more effort too.

Brian Fieser:

And so that's where it gets really hard is when you're trying to manage large, large numbers. I mean, how many rations is feasible because there's only so many hours in the day to get the cattle fed. So that's where a lot of this stuff gets tricky. Not only on the research side to figure out what, when, and where. But then can we practically get that into the real world and get it not only applied, but show a response there too. So it's the fun part and the challenging part to make sure that what we know happens, happens when we go to do it.

Kasey Brown:

It's lots of pieces to that puzzle.

Brian Fieser:

Mother Nature had a lot of time on her hands when she made some of these systems. We're just scratching the surface of how to figure out some of it.

Kasey Brown:

Cool. That's a good way to put that. Especially with right now, a lot of producers are dealing with drought or input costs are so high. And so we're having to find alternative ways to keep our cattle fed. What kind of solutions does ADM provide that can help round out those new rations?

Brian Fieser:

Sure. Yep. So, one of the things we try to do is make sure that when we're working with our customers, that everything we do has a purpose. Again, that precision idea. And so, range mineral is kind of the foundation of our program for cow-calf operations. And so, we want to make sure we're not only filling all of the holes nutritionally that the forages provide, but making sure that we get as much out of it as possible. We just had a talk yesterday with one of the company that supplies ingredients for us and their research shows that with the trace minerals that we utilize, they get a 2% increase in forage digestion, which doesn't sound like a lot. But by the same token, if you lost those 2% on every mouth full of forage a cow eats, especially when forage is limiting, every bite counts. So we've got other additives in our mineral that also maximize forage digestibility and stuff.

Brian Fieser:

So, if when we combine those, we can get 20% to 25% more energy extracted from every bite of forage they take, that much, especially when things get critical, it's either more production when there's plenty of grass or it's more production out of the very little bit of grass we have when we're trying to make sure we get everything we possibly can. So to me, that's the biggest thing right now is with input costs where they're at with scarcity of rain and forage and places is when we do something, it needs to have a purpose and fill in that gap and not let... Too much of the wrong thing doesn't help, doesn't get us where we're trying to get to. So we need to make sure that everything we're doing has a purpose because everything is so expensive.

Kasey Brown:

That's perfect. Where are some resources that cattleman can reach out to and learn some more about this?

Brian Fieser:

Sure. You got your local extension offices. There's good consultants out there. And, I don't know that everybody does this, but our company, we spend a lot of time training our sales reps to have more nutritional knowledge than some people learn, even with a master's program. So we try to make sure that every time we approach customers, we want to be very solution oriented. We have trainings and everything to say, don't go in there thinking you're going to sell this customer a certain mineral, because the important thing is you talk to them, you find out what their needs are, what their resources are, and make sure that what we are positioning for them is going to fit their operation best. And so I guess that's what I would say is don't be afraid to ask questions of anybody that you come across; your feed store, extension agents, county extension agents.

Brian Fieser:

They may have to worry about worms and apple trees, but they also have good resources, especially if they're passionate about cattle and stuff like that. But I guess the main thing I would tell somebody is just, don't be afraid to ask questions, look for the information. There's lots of information out there. It's harder to sort through what applies to you or what you might be able to make work. And the other thing I would say is, and this is something we deal with, is when we're out talking to customers or talking to prospects or something, we set... When we're asking questions, everybody's reluctant to share information and stuff like that. But when I'm working with a client, the solutions I can provide are only as good as the information I have to work with.

Brian Fieser:

So if you're not telling somebody the whole picture or willing to admit what some of your problems that you're trying to face are, it's going to be harder to find solutions for it. And so I've had customers that the first couple times I met with them, started working with them, they told me one thing and we're fixing that. And once we've got a good relationship and trust built up, then I realized, "Hey, there was a lot more to this that you didn't share right off the bat." And I think part of that's human nature, but by the same token, if you've got somebody that you're working with, again, that the solution you'll get is only as good as the information you provide to it. So again, don't be afraid to admit, "Hey, I’ve got a problem here.” And if I'm not willing to admit that I've got a problem, it's going to be hard to help. It's hard to find the people that can help me out with a solution.

Kasey Brown:

Right. Absolutely. And I think that's a perfect way to wrap up our time, but I always like to end a podcast with some good news. Cause we all know the cattle business is really the people business. Right?

Brian Fieser:

Yep. Yep.

Kasey Brown:

So what is something good that has happened to you either personally or professionally?

Brian Fieser:

So right now, we're here in beautiful, warm Southern Texas in Houston, and we're finally getting some snow. We haven't had any moisture in south central Kansas since early October. So I think there's about six inches of snow on the ground. So I'm happy about that. I feel a little bit guilty that one of my neighbors is having to take care of my cows in this mess, but I'm glad we're getting some moisture. And my wife told me the other night that our 18 month old daughter came and pulled on her arm and had her sleep sack and her bottle in her hand and said "Up, mama. Night, night." And that meant she wanted to go to bed. And she has been a chore to get to sleep and to go to bed for her little 18 month old life. And so, I guess it happened while I was out of town. I don't know what that exactly means, but we're getting closer to a peaceful end to the day.

Kasey Brown:

Nice. And that is worth its weight in gold. Oh, I love that. So thank you again for your time. Thank you for your insight and your expertise.

Speaker 4:

Listeners, to get more information to help make Angus work for you, check out the resources to our print Angus Beef Bulletin and our digital Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA in our show notes. We want to hear from you. Let us know your ideas and comments at abbeditorial@angus.org, and be sure to rate this podcast and share this episode with any other profit minded cattleman. Thanks for listening to Angus at Work.