True Feed Efficiency

True Feed Efficiency is of utmost importance in all cattle operations. Scott Anderson, CEO of Agri-Best Feeds, presented a seminar at the Gateway Farm Expo in Kearney, NE on True Feed Efficiency in cattle.  The mission of their company is to equip farmers and ranchers to maximize land and livestock by distributing unique high performing products with the three part goal of optimizing animal health & performance, improving forage utilization, and maximizing producer profits.

As the foundation to the topic of True Feed Efficiency, Anderson encouraged producers to evaluate what their “crop” actually is. In his opinion, producers need to view the forage (standing grass or hay) as the “crop” and the cow as the “harvester”. Cattle have been created to be able to convert forage into protein – meat and milk. The key then is to be able to “tune up” the harvester (cow) to get the most out of the forage that is available – this is True Feed Efficiency.

Anderson said that there are 2 herds with a symbiotic relationship that producers need to be aware of. Most producers are very well aware of the 4 legged herd that they can see (the cows) but may not be as aware of the herd of the microbial flora in the rumen. The cow provides a number of things for the microbes including: providing a home, controlled environment, water, correct pH, constant temperature, exclude oxygen, contractions to mix the contents of the rumen, protection from the cow’s immune system, food and even meaningful work for the microbes. The microbes in return take the feed that the cow eats and breaks that down into forms that the cow can utilize such as protein, energy, minerals, volatile fatty acids, amino acids, etc. Then when the microbes die they become the best sources of protein that a cow can get.

With this in mind, Anderson encouraged producers to view this microbial herd in high regard and make management decisions that positively effects these microbes. If one can target the digestive system and make that as healthy and efficient as possible, the other systems of the cow fall into place and take care of themselves such as the reproductive and the immune systems. The results of all of these systems operating optimally improves herd health and improves profitability for the rancher.

Both of these herds (cows and microbes) require nutrients from the forage for maintenance, lactation, and growth. While the majority of these needs are met through the forage, producers may need to supplement the forage by “filling in the gaps” where the forage is lacking with minerals, vitamins, protein, and energy.

The most common way to supplement forage in the area of protein and/or energy is through the use of grain (starches) or molasses (sugar) based products.  When looking at true feed efficiency, this method of supplementation leads to the Negative Associative Effect which is the negative effect of starch digestion on fiber digesting bacteria according to the Montana State University Beef Newsletter. Three things are affected by this: First, starches pull down the pH in the rumen causing the cow to eat MORE forage to buffer the rumen and the lower pH decreases digestive efficiency as the optimum rumen pH for forage fermentation is between 6 to 6.5. Secondly, the introduction of starches/sugars to the rumen increases the number of starch digesting microbes in the rumen that compete with the forage digesting microbes in the rumen which, once again reduces some of the digestive efficiency. Finally, animal health can be compromised. Infections and pathogens thrive in the more acidic environment and both milk production and breed back can be negatively impacted

A better way to supplement forage is with complex carbohydrates which are digested by the same forage digesting microbes that breakdown the forage. These also tend to keep the pH in the optimum forage fermentation range and are much easier on the rumen. Instead of the Negative Associative Effect, these have a Positive Associative Effect on the fiber digesting bacteria in the rumen resulting in cattle performing better on LESS forage – True Feed Efficiency.

Anderson then spoke specifically about the complete nutrition program that Agri-Best Feeds recommends. “It starts with SweetPro which is a complete supplement that has a great mineral (50%+ chelated) and vitamin package; the multifaceted distillers grain carrier (DDGS & CDS); and a digestive aid, ProBioTein (fermented wheat, oats, barley, and flax). Not only does the SweetPro contain protein, energy, minerals, and other nutrients that supplements the grass, the yeast and enzymes in the digestive aid help breakdown the forage up to 25% better bringing more value to the forage itself.”

“While there is salt in the SweetPro, Agri-Best Feeds recommends keeping salt available on the side and recommends Redmond Natural Trace Mineral Salt. Redmond is a mined sea salt that has over 60 trace minerals in crystalloid form (most bio-available mineral form) in their natural balance. The chemical analysis of this salt is very similar to blood making it a great trace mineral “safety net” for animal health and performance.”

“SweetPro plus Redmond along with your forage and good clean water provide the nutritional needs of both herds (cows and microbes) that we have been talking about. This program improves animal health and performance, optimizes forage utilization, and helps to maximize producer profits.”

Anderson concluded with a statement from page 91 of the sixth edition of the Beef Cattle Manual from Oklahoma State University: “For efficient beef cattle nutrition, cattlemen must meet the dietary needs of both the cow and the rumen micro organisms. This requires a combination of scientific knowledge, creativity, and management skills. Feeding programs should maximize microbial protein production first and then meet additional nutrient requirements over-and-above those not met by microbial fermentation end products.”

For more information on SweetPro, Redmond, or Agri-Best Feeds visit or call 866 601-6646. There are also a couple of recorded webinars that can be viewed on the Agri-Best Feeds website: SweetPro & Redmond101 and True Feed Efficiency.