Livestock nutrition vital, no matter operation’s size
BEL AIR, Md. — If Elsie the cow was more than a mascot, she’d have a nutritional consultant.
All the heifers these days have one — or at least those on large farms do.
The purebred brown Jersey cow graced Borden and Eagle Brand logos and advertisements and “authored” at least two cookbooks.
She helped endear customers to animals behind the nutrition they supply.
Farmers who tend to livestock animals are tasked with treating them humanely and providing them the nutrition that they need and that they pass on to human.
Livestock nutrition is what sets the gamey flavor of deer apart from the cows who make for marbled steaks and more fatty burgers, according to Henry Holloway, owner of The Mill.
Healthy cows also make for healthy production levels, retired Sussex, N.J., farmer Fred Hough said: Feed a cow more, and the cow will render more milk, he said.
The National Research Council in 2001 published dietary guidelines for all traditional livestock species, according to Sarah Potts, a Dairy and Beef Extension Specialist at the University of Maryland’s Western Maryland Research & Education Center.
Different types of livestock have different types of digestive systems, Holloway said. Nutrient requirements further vary by size, breed, genetics, physical condition and lactation stage, University of Maryland Small Ruminant Extension Sheep and Goat Specialist Susan Schoenian said.
The Mill serves very small farmers with agronomists, equine nutritionists and livestock specialists who provide on-farm consultations.
Specialists with the feed, nutrition and fertilizer retailer assess lawn, field and animal needs and make recommendations based on that.
“It’s different than someone raising lots of cattle,” Holloway said. “They have similar diets and nutritional needs but, as far as the products, they’re not hiring a nutritionist who gives them a piece of paper telling them how many pounds of TMR [total mixed ration] they need to eat each day and how much they should be milked based on that.
“We do our best to provide information to small farmers that is similar to what farmers are making a living on,” she said.
Hough said that his feed salesman serves as a nutritionist for the 40 heifers that his son, Tom, raises on 275 owned and rented acres.
Calves, he said, are fed diets that include milk until they’re weaned as well as grass hay and supplements.
Heifers feast on high-protein alfalfa hay, popcorn, corn kernels and, at times, protein supplements, he said.
On hot summer days, Hough’s heifers are placed inside barns and on mattresses, he said.
“They don’t make as much milk when they’re sitting out there,” Hough said.
Hough said that his cows have traditionally produced around 25,000 pounds of milk with only 1,017 pounds of fat annually.
More recently, the USDA has focused on genetically engineered feed.
“Customers want to know what these animals are eating,” Purcelleville, Va., farmer Carolelee Morrison said. “It’s very important to our customers and to us.”
Morrison and her son, Todd, raise livestock and poultry and grow near-organic GMO-free grain feed.
Grain feed is according to Holloway typically provided to beef cattle for protein development during the early years.
During the last 60 to 120 days of what the Cattlemen’s Beef Board reports for most involves 18-month lives, beef livestock live on forage, Holloway said.
Ranchers can manipulate the diets of beef cattle through what the Journal of Molecular Science in a 2016 article reported are different sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids, starch concentrations and vitamins for intramuscular fat marbling.
Finishing the diet with grass increases precursors for cancer-fighting antioxidant levels, according to a 2010 Journal of Nutrition article.
Grass-fed beef in addition to containing these precursors are rich in precursors for Vitamin A and E and lower in overall fat than their partially grain-fed counterparts, though cooking is a consideration, the article noted.
Pasture management, or managing fertilizers and grazing intensity, is also important.
The Cattlemen’s Board contends that cattle graze on land that is not suitable for growing crops.
The region’s climate can also influence requirements, Schoenian said.
Storing good quality forage for winters is essential, Holloway said.
Cattle losses that occurred during and after extreme droughts and events such as Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017 have been attributed to changes in plant composition such as increased nitrates that, found in manure, can choke the oxygen out of cows.
The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Wisconsin in August 2017 began working on research to develop and evaluate dietary feed formulation strategies for milk-producing cows that increase use of conventional feeds and forages and alternatives that reduce competition with human food consumption.
The USDA inspects farms of certain sizes and at the processing level does the same based on the food product and the facility.
There, livestock products from some of the largest farms could be processed alongside those that 4-H youngsters breed and sell at county fairs.
The products can then end up at the same market, University of Maryland Queen Anne’s County Extension Senior Agent Christine Johnston said.
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