Feeding the bugs

Feb 05, 2024

Story and photos by Mark Johnson
A cold, January rain begins pattering the hood of his pickup as Lobelville cattleman Tim Byrd pulls up to the metal gate of his pasture. Across the fence, members of his commercial cow/calf herd look on expectantly, gathering near the fence.

“They know I’ve got a fresh tub on the truck,” laughs Byrd, a member of both Perry Farmers and United Farm and Home cooperatives.

Byrd is among a growing number of cattle producers who are opting to provide forage supplementation in the form of feed blocks or tubs — in his case, Co-op’s Sensible-Lix 24% Hi-Mag tub. Both the Co-op line of Sensible-Lix and Rational-Lix tubs and Purina® Accuration® Hi-Fat tub are molasses-based and contain various formulations of fat, protein, fiber, and minerals, depending on the product.

“Our hay is not always of great quality because of the challenges of dealing with it and our crops at the same time,” says Byrd, who also raises 1,800 Perry County acres of row crops with his brother, Craig. “A lot of times, our hay gets pushed to the back burner, so if I don't put out the protein supplements during the winter, the cattle just lose weight and won't look good. The tub keeps them eating the hay well, boosts their energy, and makes them look well-conditioned.”

ProTrition Sales Specialist Gary Williams explains that the general idea behind supplement tubs is to allow cattle to better process forages.

“The rumen microbes — we call them ‘bugs’ — require a certain amount of protein to allow them utilize the hay that the cow is consuming,” says Williams. “Sometimes, our hay is of a lower quality than we would prefer, but the extra protein of the tub supplement lets those rumen bugs work more efficiently, and that's where you can extract all the energy that's in your hay. If you don't have enough protein in that animal's diet, the bugs can't function like they ideally should, and the tub allows that to happen in a convenient way.”

The producer can choose between a variety of supplement tub products according to his needs and goals, Williams says. For the past several years, Byrd has opted for a formulation that contains high-mag to help offset the threat of grass tetany, a metabolic disorder caused by reduced magnesium levels in the animal’s blood and normally associated with the consumption of springtime cool-season grasses.

“I’ll switch my minerals over to one that contains magnesium around February or March as well, but there’s peace-of-mind knowing that I’m providing it in the tub, too,” Byrd says. “It’s a good insurance policy against the possibility of grass tetany.”

He says that his cattle each consume around 1.5 lbs. of supplement per day, an amount that he can adjust depending how close to the hay ring he locates the tub.

“The farther they have to walk to get to it, the less that gets eaten,” he says.

In nearby Waverly, cattleman Marty Allison, of Allison Angus Farms, began using supplement tubs — in his case, Purina® Accuration® Hi-Fat — in 2021 after attending a producer’s meeting conducted by Co-op and Purina.
“I had been thinking about it for a couple of years before that, but the meeting put me over the top,” recalls Allison, a member of United Farm and Home Co-op and the seventh generation to farm his family’s 1,000-acre Century Farm property. “I was most interested in improving my pregnancy rates and making the best use of my forages.”
ProTrition Sales Specialist Lauren Speaks says the science built into the Accuration® tub addresses both of those goals.

“The consumption of the product will be directly correlated to the quality of the hay that you've got to work with,” says Speaks. “So, the worse quality your hay is, the more [the cattle are] going to have to consume to get the protein and energy that they're lacking out of that forage. The better quality the hay is, the less product they'll consume. Simply put, the cow eats what she needs when she needs it.”

The 10% fat content of the Accuration® tub also supports higher conception rates, Speaks adds.

“The high-fat element really helps keep the cows satisfied because it's more energy-dense, but also has a lot of good benefits for reproduction,” she says. “There's a lot of data-supported research showing that fat is helpful for getting cows bred and keeping them bred.”

Allison reports that in addition to the anecdotal evidence that his cattle — both commercial and registered Angus — simply look better and are more marketable for his clients who buy on-site, he has seen other improvements to his bottom line.

“For one thing, I went from feeding around 1,000 bales of hay annually before feeding the tubs to 800 bales after, which is a substantial difference,” says the cattleman, who also works as an environmental health and safety manager at a nearby factory. “In addition to that, I have saved $4,000 per year from replacing the bulk commodity feed I was handfeeding daily with the Accuration® Hi-Fat tub. That’s not including how much time it’s saved me to not have to hand-feed every day. This also doesn’t include the improvement in pregnancy rates that I’ve seen. The tubs have been an addition to my feeding program that has really worked out well from multiple angles.”

To learn more about Co-op Sensible-Lix and Rational-Lix tubs and Purina Accuration® tubs, visit with the professionals at your local Co-op.

For more content like this, read the latest issue of The Cooperator

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