Protein supplementation can help give a boost to all classes of cattle, but those on forage-based rations will benefit the most. Additional protein helps the rumen to break down forages quicker, which will increase passage rate, and ultimately can increase intake. Ruminal microbes are powered by protein, so as supplemental protein is introduced to the rumen, more microbes are able to attach and break down fiber within the rumen. Not much supplementation is required to boost ruminal microbes, as only a few pounds per head per day can be enough.
Consequences of limiting protein
Limiting protein supplementation in situations where low-quality forages make up the majority of the ration can be detrimental. A lack of protein can lead to decreased efficiency, which spurs further issues such as low milk production and/ or loss of body condition. When cattle are grazing dormant forages or poor quality hay in the winter months, this becomes especially important.
There are many ways to provide supplemental protein. Which method works best for you depends on your management style. For producers who are able to check on their cattle every day, providing supplemental protein through a feed or grain is usually the most cost-efficient. For those with cattle spread further apart, daily check-ins can be more difficult. In cases such as this, protein tubs or liquid protein supplements can be quite effective.
Feed, protein tubs, and liquid supplements can each be moved throughout pastures to encourage grazing in often untouched areas of the pasture. Equal grazing distribution helps stretch pasture further so less hay may be needed throughout the winter and manure can more evenly be distributed throughout the pasture.