Forage fiber in a ration must be processed to be “just right” and can be considered either a filler (if you’re a pessimist) or an opportunity (if you’re an optimist). I would encourage you to begin to look at fiber as an opportunity if you don’t already lean that way. However, how do you get to that perfect, “just right” inclusion of fiber in your ration? The one that keeps ADG up and digestion high.

Opportunity #1: Define Effectiveness

According to Webster’s dictionary, the word effective means “capable of meeting an objective.” Therefore, you must first determine the objective of fiber in your specific cattle ration before you can determine what effective fiber means to you. In the case of Goldilocks, her objective was to satisfy her hunger. After a long walk in the forest, the option that didn’t burn her tongue and wasn’t plated past its prime suited her.

In the same way cattle are ruminants designed with the inherent objective to consume a fiber-based diet. Microbes in the rumen have enzymes that break down the cellulose in fiber and convert it to energy. However, the amount of useable or net energy generated this way is only sufficient to meet the maintenance requirements of the animal with a little left over for productive purposes. If you could increase the effectiveness of your fiber to help your cattle convert more of it into energy, would it help you better achieve your objectives? If so, keep reading.

Opportunity #2: Understand Fiber Quality Impacts

A couple of examples:

  • If you feed a young grazing animal high quality fiber in the form of pasture or hay, your expected rate of gain would be roughly one pound per day on average.
  • If you feed low quality fiber to the same animal, you can expect no gain at all.

The lack of protein in the diet can limit the microbe’s ability to digest fiber. In this situation, it is recommended that you feed either a mixed ration or a supplemental energy source that includes protein. Recent research into this area has proven significant, cost effective gains over feeding forage alone.


Opportunity #3: Know Your Options

Cattle producers have a variety of ingredient options when mixing feed. The options for fiber include those from forage sources (hay, untreated stover, silage, and newer but proven pelleted products like ForageEQ™ or those from non-forage sources (wheat midds, beet pulp, and distillers-based products). Just like Goldilocks, it’s good sometimes to try new things. We do this by incrementally incorporating different feed ingredients into our rations and measuring the results … not by breaking into the houses of bears. Take the time today to review what you’ve been feeding and what additional options may be available to you that will both meet your objectives and provide an additional boost to your feeding program.

Avoid the Top 3 Mistakes

Just like how Goldilocks broke into a house, ate someone else’s food, broke a chair, claimed eminent domain, played victim and fled the scene … we make mistakes too.

The third biggest mistake of feeding fiber in a ration is the mixing process itself. If the ration is not mixed well, the physical effectiveness of the fiber is reduced because cattle will either eat too much or not enough—in either case, inconsistent feed intake will occur and animal performance will be reduced. All things being equal, it is best to provide consistency in mixing so take a few more minutes to make sure your ration is nice and consistent. It will pay off.

The second biggest mistake associated with feeding fiber is your choice of and resources required to make fiber efficient. For example, grinding your own hay may seem cost effective, but in reality, it is inconvenient, expensive, and presents many challenges including inconsistency of particle size, low digestibility, lots of storage and a large amount of shrink through the process. Consider incorporating alternative sources of fiber like the ones mentioned above as well as looking into pre-processed fiber like ForageEQ™ that will save you labor and bunk space. Your cattle will thank you and your pocketbook will too.

Let’s be honest here and admit that the first biggest mistake is that most feeders have a combination of the two mistakes above working against them, but unlike Goldilocks, we can find the “just right” by taking the lessons learned from today and improving on them for tomorrow.

Ryan A. Mass, Ph.D.
Feed Business Manager, ICM, Inc.