Cattle have a complex, four-compartment system that makes up the front of their digestive tract. This system is only seen in cattle and other ruminants. Overall, this allows the animal to digest forages and other feedstuffs in a unique series of fermentation processes, creating protein and energy for growth and milk production.

At the very basic level, cattle require water, minerals, vitamins, energy and protein. While forage provides most to all of the nutrients needed, as a producer, your goal is to unlock and leverage the greatest potential of the nutrients provided by the forage.

In addition to forage, you can improve the nutrients available for your herd by supplementation. Improved forage digestion results from incorporating corn, soy hulls, beet pulp or other energy feed, if your herd needs higher energy or, for higher protein, feeding high-protein hay or offering protein tubs or blocks are options.

Level of supplemental feeds containing high levels of starch should be limited to 0.35 percent bodyweight or less.

Minerals are also vital to normal tissue growth, enzyme function, cell regulation and immune response. Minerals improve milk production as well as calf growth and play an important role in reproductive success. For a simpler approach, consider putting out tubs to satisfy protein, mineral and vitamin needs.


If you’re running a cow-calf operation, what level of supplemental nutrition are you providing to your cow herd? The cow produces a healthy calf, generates milk and keeps the calf alive and growing.

Even with all the previously mentioned nutrient-depleting responsibilities, she will still give her all for the benefit of her calf. Even so, many cows receive no supplemental nutrition. Now, consider the potential health effects for the cow.

The supplemental nutrients for the cow benefit her and her calf. If the cow is unable to provide the proper nutrition for the calf early in life, the calf may not be able to perform as well in a feedyard situation later in life.

Additionally, it can be challenging to put weight on a cow during the reproductive cycle, but there is a 90-day period during the second trimester in which you can economically put weight on her. Make sure you are providing supplemental feedstuffs, mineral and protein blocks to help her achieve reproductive success.

The most important thing to consider is that all cattle require a balanced approach for the best level of nutrition possible. Think of it like baking a cake and the outcome when you remove one of the main ingredients from the recipe.

Take away one key nutrient, and the animal’s immune system will not provide adequate protection for the animal and diminish its level of productivity. Nutrition is key for animal health and helps implant and vaccination programs be more effective.

Nutrition complements implant programs

Growth implants have been used in the beef cattle industry for more than 60 years to improve productivity, feed efficiency and average daily gain.

Implants drive increased intake (forages and grains), which increases daily gain, tending to favor protein deposition relative to fat. When cattle are implanted, nutrients preferentially flow toward producing lean tissue. Cattle need a quality nutritional profile to allow them to produce the desired tissue and gain. To help implants work to their potential, cattle require protein, energy, minerals and water.

Nutritional plane can be directly observed in gain improvement. If you implant a calf that’s only gaining 0.5 pounds a day due to drought, seasonal conditions or restricted nutrition, the implant response may be minimal or in some cases, provide no gain improvement.

However, if you implant an animal that is receiving enough nutrients to gain 2 pounds per day, you could increase gain to about 2.3 pounds per day. The more nutrients you put in to raise baseline gain, the better response you’ll typically see with your implant program.

Here is one way to think of how nutrition and implants work together: Let’s say you are a bricklayer. The bricks represent the nutrients cattle consume.

You, yourself, can only lay so many bricks a day, but you can hire another bricklayer to increase the number of bricks laid. In this example, an implant is the added employee, and total bricks laid equals total gain. If the number of bricks you work with are restricted, one or two bricklayers can only lay until the bricks are gone.

Increase the number of bricklayers from one to two, with adequate bricks, and the level of production (gain) increases versus when either of the two are limited. So goes gain in cattle – provide adequate nutrition with a quality implant and watch productivity rise.

There are many implant choices on the market to choose from, from shorter-duration implants to higher-potency, long-duration implant options that allow cattlemen to increase operational flexibility and decrease labor costs by extending the window for weight gain up to 200 days.

It’s important that you match the potency of the implant with the nutrition provided to achieve optimum results. Whatever your implant of choice, ensure the implant will complement the type of cattle you have and fit your nutrition program.

Nutrition affects vaccination programs

A vaccine’s effectiveness depends on your cattle’s immune systems at the time of vaccination. Without good nutrition, an animal’s immune system cannot work as it should. For the best level of protection, it’s important to vaccinate cattle when they are healthy and consuming a diet that provides the immune system all that it needs to respond.

As a nutritionist, I look at a vaccine program as a way of sparing nutrients. When an animal becomes sick, nutrients intended for gain are instead used to fight disease. Not only is the illness impacting the cow, but this also becomes problematic when weaning larger calves. I want to see energy and protein going into milk synthesis instead of fighting diseases.

Additionally, if cattle do not receive minerals, producers may see a domino effect of its results on an animal, including:

  • Depressed immunity
  • Decreased weaning weights
  • Reduced reproduction

To achieve a full immune response to vaccinations, take a balanced approach, beginning with nutrition.

It is important to ensure nutrition is prioritized year-round on your operation. Seek out a consulting nutritionist who is familiar with your operation, forages, grazing window and stocking density to develop a nutrition program for your herd to make the most from every dollar invested in your implant and vaccination programs.  end mark

PHOTO: The success of an implant program begins with good nutrition. Photo provided by Blaine Corners.

Blaine Corners