Supplementation Strategies for Cattle Producers

AUBURN, Ala. — Supplementation is an important management strategy for cattle producers to implement as cooler weather approaches.

Supplementation is adding or including ingredients into a beef herd’s diet to increase the energy or protein values or both over the base diet to a desired level, said Rickey Hudson, Alabama Extension Animal Science and Forages Regional Extension Agent.

The Goal

Supplementation is imperative for cattle producers because it allows for proper maintenance, growth and performance of cattle.

The primary goal is to complement the deficient base ingredients in the herd’s diet with the necessary nutrients to allow cattle to function without limitations said Hudson.

When Should Supplementation Begin

Producers might consider supplemental feeding in the fall when the nutritional value of warm-season forages begins to decrease, especially in fall-calving systems.

Supplementation should not occur year-round.

“Supplementation might become a necessity at any point during the year, resulting from environmental conditions,” said Hudson. “However, any extended period of supplementation begs for a review of the base diet, along with an audit of the planned beef production system.”


Because each operation has different goals and each herd has different dietary needs based on their age and stage of production, there is no single best supplementation strategy to follow.

According to Hudson there are, however, different ways to increase the energy and protein levels in your herd’s feed.

  • Corn is a feedstuff high in energy.
  • Oat and soybean hulls are moderate sources of energy and protein.
  • Corn gluten, cottonseed, dried brewer’s grain, dried distiller’s grain and wheat midds are high in energy and protein.
  • Soybean meal and cottonseed meal are high in protein.

The best supplementation strategy is one that complements the base diet by providing the herd with the needed nutrients while being cost effective for the producer said Hudson.

For more information on feed supplementation, contact your Alabama Cooperative Extension Animal Science and Forages Regional Extension Agent.


Forage Testing

AUBURN, Ala. — Just as soil tests are an important part of on-farm management, forage testing is an important part of beef management systems.

“Forage testing involves testing fresh forage, hay or silage in a laboratory to

provide information needed to formulate animal rations,” said Josh Elmore, Alabama Cooperative Extension Animal Science and Forages Regional Agent.

“If You Never Check, It’s Just a Guess”

Forage testing is important because producers need to know that the nutrient value of the hay to ensure it meets the nutrient requirement for their livestock said Gerry Thompson, Alabama Cooperative Extension Animal Science and

Forages Regional Agent.

Every animal has different nutrient needs based on what it is doing at that specific time in its life. For example, a dry cow will have less nutrient needs than a cow with a calf.

Forage testing is important because it shows how much protein and energy is in a batch of hay. The test can also reveal if there are any toxic properties, such as nitrates, said Thompson.

It also helps determine how much supplemental feed is needed.

Hay harvested at different times of the year and from different fields will also have different nutrient values. Knowing this helps producers determine if the hay from a particular field or cutting has a higher nutritional value, then it can be fed to livestock with a higher nutrient requirement.

How to Test Forages

Testing forages is simple and something any producer can do by themselves.

Using a hay probe, drill a hole in 12 to 15 random bales of hay and drill to

capture the hay. Every county extension office has a hay probe that producers can borrow.

Once the hay sample has been collected, send it to the Forage Testing Lab at Auburn University for analysis.

Hay stored outside should be tested right before it is fed because exposure to the high humidity and rainfall experienced in the Southeast has diminished the nutrient quality said Thompson. If hay does not reach the proper nutrient requirement for the livestock, supplemental feed will be necessary.

Hay stored inside should be tested once as well, but the nutrient quality will be

about the same as it was when it was cut because it has not been exposed to the elements.

Forage testing is a simple and less labor-intensive management practice that should be utilized to ensure livestock are receiving the proper amount of nutrients.

For more information about forage testing contact your Alabama Cooperative Extension Regional Animal Science and Forages Agent or read the Alabama

Cooperative Extension publication on forage testing here.

Information on collecting a forage sample for laboratory analysis can be found at: