LINCOLN, Neb. — Choosing the right protein may help bring the cost of feed down and more accurately meet the needs of our cattle. In some rations, alfalfa might be that choice.
Whether cattle are on winter range, cornstalks or being fed prairie/grass hay, they often will need extra protein in their diet. Protein sources vary in cost and effectiveness. Protein is important because it is used by the rumen microbes to help break down low quality forage and then used by the animal itself as microbial protein as they pass through the digestive tract. It’s essentially used twice.
Many times, alfalfa is one of the cheapest natural sources of protein, easy to use and doesn’t require additional equipment. Non-protein sources of nitrogen, such as urea, may be cheap but won’t be as effective with low quality forage. The first steps to finding out how much extra protein your cattle need include testing your feeds and forages for protein and estimating consumption rate. Then determine the amount of supplementation needed, which will depend on whether you are dealing with weaned growing calves, dry pregnant cows, or lactating cows and nursing calves.
Some winter diets such as winter range, cornstalks or grass hay may require approximately one pound of extra protein per day. This can be supplemented every day or every other day and still keep cows productive, healthy and meet requirements.
Feeding the right amount and choosing the right protein you need can save money. Alfalfa might just be the golden ticket.
— Brad Schick, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska-Lincoln