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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Liquid supplements may not be enough nutrition for poor hay

Livestock Update, January 2004

John B. Hall, Extension Animal Scientist, Beef, VA Tech

With this year's poor quality hay crop, producers are looking for ways to improve hay intake and cow nutrition. One option producers turn to is liquid supplements. These molasses-based supplements are designed as a self-fed protein supplement for low protein hays and silages, and they work well for this purpose.

Every year in Virginia, some producers use these liquid supplements to provide energy and protein to cattle. Because liquid supplements are only moderate in energy, they are an expensive, although convenient, method to supplement energy to beef cows. When hays are extremely low in energy content like most of this year's first cutting grass hay, liquid supplements will not provide enough energy to meet the cows needs. As a result, cows will lose weight despite the availability of liquid supplement.

Some producers are pouring liquid supplement over (or into) round bales in order to increase forage intake. This method will increase hay intake but cows still might not be consuming enough energy. Using the Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, late pregnant cows fed poor first cutting hay (44 % TDN) will lose 1 body condition score (about 100 lbs) in 60 days. By treating the same hay with a liquid supplement, we may increase hay consumption by 10 %. The increase in energy intake from the additional hay and liquid supplement will double the time it will take the cow to lose weight.

The result of using the liquid supplement is a dramatic reduction in weight loss; however, cows are still losing weight. Cows that lose weight in late pregnancy take longer to rebreed and have less vigorous calves. In comparison, feeding the same poor quality hay along with 5 lbs of corn gluten feed will allow cows to maintain their weight during late gestation.

Producers should test their hay and work with their county agent on a nutritional program for their cattle before deciding on which type of supplement to use.

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