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Nutrition

“In today’s environment, the terms health and diet are rampant,” said Roxi Beck of the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) during a Feb. 27 webinar that summarized research on consumer health. “Many believe health has to do with dieting or restriction.”
While health means eliminating a food or certain group of food for some consumers, other consumers perceive health as a focus on increasing consumption of one area, for example fruit or protein.

“Altogether, each person who defines ‘healthy’ comes to us with a different definition,” she said. “Most of the time, people have a specific goal when they think about health.”

Focusing on a trend that they’ve noticed in the past few years, Beck said CFI is focusing on opportunities to capitalize on to help consumers with concerns and skepticism that they have about their food. 

“Health is very broadly defined, and it’s no wonder, with all of the different labeling and marketing claims that are out there, consumers have broad definitions of health that is focused on labels,” Beck said. 

Recent trends

While labeling claims have existed for many years, a new trend has gained traction with consumers lately – “free from.”

“Whether it’s GMO-free, sugar-free, any sort of indication that we’re opting out of something – even on organic or natural foods – that seems like a risk and seems closer to how nature intended, consumers are drawn to this,” Beck said. “There is a 21 percent increase in this trend, and we don’t expect it to go away soon.” 

CFI’s YouTube channel “CFI Street Talk” goes directly to consumers on the street with questions about how they view the food system. A recent video asked consumers whether they prefer food with 30 grams of sugar of 10 grams of sugar plus five grams of added sugar.

“This seems like a pretty easy equation from a caloric standpoint, but it has become highly polarized,” Beck commented, noting sugar has become a hot topic of conservation in terms of health lately. “We know that sugar, whether it is natural or perceived unnatural indicates people’s preference in this conversation.”

While the answers may seem simply, when the information of “added sugar” is inserted, consumers chose 30 grams of sugar, citing concerns about additives that trigger health issues, noting that “additives” cause concern. 

“More and more, we’re seeing consumers say, ‘They’re adding in the other sugar for a reason, and I don’t want to eat that reason,’” she said. “This might cause us to giggle, but it points to other research we’ve done, as well.”

Beck points consumer concern as a symptom of the size and scale of the food industry, coupled with the idea that big is bad as it relates to the corporate food system. 

“These are not simple conversations,” she added.

Consumer research

CFI has engaged in consumer research for over 10 years to isolate what consumers think and feel as it relates to the food system. 

Their research often strives for a representative sample of the population, across a variety of age groups, income brackets, geographic region and food habits. They have also focused on several consumer groups, in particular  moms, millenials, foodies and early adopters. 

“One of the things we do is we have consumers rate their level of concern about topics in the food system,” Beck explained. “More importantly we ask areas about life experience in general.”

Top concerns including rising healthcare costs, which was targeted by 76 percent of consumers as a concern. The next three top concerns marked by over 60 percent of respondents – affordability of food, keeping healthy food affordable and food safety – all relate to the food system. 

In particular, moms, millenials, foodies and early adopters marked all of those issues with a higher level of concern.

“We see the people who have a higher level of concern are the ones who are more likely to purchase groceries and are decision makers in their family,” Beck said. “These people think about food on a consistent basis, so there’s opportunity here.” 

Sharing information

Because food is a concern, foodies and early adopters in particular are actively seeking information on their food. 

“Because they are actively seeking information, making sure our communications targets these people and allow us to connect with them is important. We also have to consider what channels we connect with them through to meet them where they are at,” Beck said.

Thinking about these concerns, Beck said producers should consider whether they have a policy around communicating about food health and affordability, whether they connect with these audiences and who is the right messenger for these topics. 

Attitudes

When asked to rate their level of agreement on a series of statements, Beck noted almost 30 percent of the population feels very pressured to buy food with healthy attributes, particularly when eating with family members. 

The results also vary by groups. Millenials felt more pressure to eat healthy, regardless of who they are with, as do people who have a higher level of formal education. 

In general, 42 percent of people believe the food system is moving in the right direction, where 24 percent disagree with this statement. While useful, Beck noted it is difficult to tell why people believe the food system is moving in the right direction. 

“We can’t unpack that with just one question, but it’s good to know, in general, we are headed in the right direction,” she said.

Other opinions shows 37 percent of people believe food grown organically is more healthy, 43 percent are more concerned about healthy eating than a year ago and 50 percent aren’t confident they are making healthy food choices.

“This is an opportunity,” Beck commented. “There is lots of information there, but half of consumers aren’t confident they’re making healthy decisions.”

Consumers also mention simple concern – not indicating whether they have enough knowledge or if they have made a decision on the topic – about hormones, artificial ingredients, antibiotics, genetically modified food.

“We see a focus on these trends and we see opportunity to talk about these topics,” Beck said.

Look for more about how consumers shop and get more information about their food in next week’s Roundup. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Supplementation is about providing cattle with the necessary nutrients to provide for growth and production, but South Dakota State University Ruminant Nutritionist Ken Olson adds that it is also important for producers to make sure they are getting the biggest benefit for their expenditures.

“There are two aspects we need to think about with supplementation,” Olson says. “First is the biology of the cow’s production, and the other aspect is the buck itself in terms of the economics of pricing potential supplements.”

He adds, “Both of these are really important to maximizing the value of our supplementation program.”

Biology of supplements

“We don’t need to supplement the cows in a green grass pasture situation,” Olson says. “We are talking about supplementing cattle on dormant, fully mature forage.”

Cows grazing dormant, mature forages during the winter months may not receive the nutrition they need. These forages are frequently very low quality.

“When we are talking about low-quality forages, the age old rule is that a forage with seven percent crude protein content or lower is what we are talking about,” he explains. “All dormant forages are not created equal.”

“When we talk about an average of seven percent crude protein in low-quality forages, that creates the first deficiency we need to talk about today,” Olson adds.

When plants are preparing for winter, they store many of their soluble nutrients in the roots to be saved for the upcoming years, leaving primarily fiber in the above-ground portions of the plant.

Capacity

“Ruminants can digest fiber and use that as their primary energy source,” Olson says, “but we have to make sure the cow has the capacity to digest the fiber and use it.”

When referencing the capacity of the cow, Olson explains that a cow will eat forages, which move through the esophagus into the reticulum - the first compartment of the four-chambered stomach. After passing through the reticulum, forages are digested in the rumen.

“The feed stays in the rumen until particles get small enough to fit through the omasal orphus, which is the opening into the third compartment of the stomach,” he says. “The feed stays in the rumen until she can get as much of the nutrients out of it as she can. Sometimes, as we’re going to learn with low-quality forages, that can take a long time.”

When the rumen of the cow is full, she stops eating until it empties and more capacity is available. Receptors in the stomach work similarly to a float valve in a tank.

“With low-quality forages, it takes longer for the rumen to empty, so the rate of digestion passage slows and the quality of digestion goes down,” Olson comments. “Digestibility gets cut nearly in half as we go from our best forages to our worst forages, and intake gets hurt.”

Research shows that nearly a three-fold decrease can be seen on the amount of forage consumed as a percentage of body weight, which means that the cow is gaining less and producing less as a result.

Choosing a supplement

After it is determined that a supplement is necessary, Olson explains that choosing a supplement is important.

“We know we are deficient of some nutrients,” he says. “”We need to provide additional nutrients, but we can’t afford enough supplement to meet all of those. We have to help the cow do a better job of getting more fiber, and we need to overcome the limitations of digestion and intake.”

One key method to help a cow’s digestive system is to help the microbes in her cut.

“When we are feeding a cow, we are feeding for two,” Olson says, “and I’m not talking about her calf. I’m talking about the ruminant microbes. We need to meet their requirements first if we have a ghost of a chance of meeting the cow’s requirements.”

The definition of a seven percent crude protein requirement feeds the microbes in the cow’s gut. As a result, protein above that is necessary to supply the cow’s needs.

Right feedstuffs

Supplements are classified based on their protein content. Protein supplements are high in protein while energy supplements are low in protein.

The ratio of protein to energy is also important, and Olson explains that protein is the first limiting nutrient in many situations.

“If we provide more protein, microbes can feed, digest it and use that to grow more microbes,” he explains. “If we can grow more microbes, the cow can digest more fiber and she can increase the rate that she digests quite dramatically.”

Interactions among feeds can affect the nutritional value of forages.

“We can increase nutritional value of a forage by adding protein in the form of supplement,” Olson adds. “We can also cause negative associative effects.”

For example, grains are more efficiently digested than fiber. A grain-based energy supplement can be detrimental.

“Grains are mostly starch, and when starch competes with fiber to be digested, starch wins the war every time,” Olson explains. “If we overcome the protein deficiency, we can’t grow more microbes.”

At the same time, microbes will preferentially digest starches, leaving more fiber in the gut and further slowing digestion.

“The interaction of the feed combination is important,” he summarizes. “When we add one feed in combination of another, we can press the quality out of one we hope to get more out of.”

Economics

When seeking supplements, Olson also noted that producers must consider the cost per pound of crude protein, as well as the cost of transportation. He also urged producers to ensure they aren’t paying for unnecessary water.

“We need to evaluate our supplements on a crude protein basis, and we need to get them on the same dry matter content,” Olson said. “There are a variety of feeds, and we have to calculate the price per ton of crude protein.”

For example, he explained that in all his calculations over 30 years as a nutritionist, cake with 30 percent crude protein is always cheaper on a crude protein basis than 20 percent range cake.

At the same time, he also adds that tubs tend to be more expensive than any other crude protein sources, but he cautions producers, “There are reasons that we may use tubs. Sometimes, there are other reasons that supplements can be valuable, such as for improved pasture distribution or cost of hauling.”

Olson spoke during the 2015 Range Beef Cow Symposium, held in mid-November in Loveland, Colo.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – As the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming recruits its next class, the young people currently involved in the program came together on April 27 at the Casper College Ranch to learn more about their options in production agriculture. 

A wide variety of speakers addressed program participants, with presentations geared toward finances, college and career opportunities, expected progeny differences, artificial insemination and nutrition. 

“Last year, we had a lot of phase one heifers,” said UW Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley. “A lot of the discussion we have to have now is where we want the heifers to be from a nutrition and condition standpoint.”

Condition

While it is important to have enough fat and condition on a heifer or cow prior to calving and breeding, Paisley also noted that too much condition can be problematic. 

Students involved in the program offered that heifers that are too fat don’t calve as easily and are harder to breed a second time. However, they also recognized that show animals often have more condition than a production animal would.

Paisley noted, “If we have animals in heavier condition, another issue is a drop in milk production.” 

As animals gain weight, fat can concentrate in the mammary glands, which yields reduced capacity for milk. 

“A short-term benefit from the showing aspect may have longer-term impacts when we talk about longevity and production,” he continued. 

Feeding strategy

When feeding heifers, Paisley noted that traditionally, the general goal is to feed heifers to 65 percent of their mature weight prior to the breeding season. 

“A lot of data would suggest that we want to feed heifers to that condition, and we get a higher breeding percentage, more cycling earlier and a higher conception rate for the first full cycle,” he said. “We’ll get a higher breeding percentage if they are between 750 and 800 pounds at breeding.”

While heifers at lighter weights may be bred as a first calf heifer, impacts may be seen later on. 

“A study comparing heifers at 50 versus 55 percent of their mature weight provided quite a bit of data that shows we may impact her ability to rebreed,” Paisley mentioned. “We can usually get our heifers bred because we pay quite a bit of management attention to them initially, but second calf heifers can be more difficult to get rebred.”

He added that data shows lighter weight heifers are more difficult to breed back a second time because they don’t return to cycling as quickly as more mature or heavier cows.

Nutritional requirements

At the time a cow is preparing for her second calf, one participant in the Future Cattle Producer program noted that the cow’s nutritional requirements are increased over that of a mature cow because she is trying to raise a calf while she continues to grow.

At the same time, Paisley mentioned, “If these cows are mixed with the rest of the herd, they aren’t dominant and they can get pushed around. They are more difficult to get bred back.”

Paisley noted that it is important to meet the nutritional requirements of cows and heifers to ensure performance.

Condition scoring

Body condition scores dramatically impact the reproductive performance of first calf heifers. 

“Body condition scoring is a management tool that doesn’t take a lot of time and is easy to do,” Paisley said, noting that the tool allows producers to assess the energy reserves that the cow has available. 

“To body condition score, we look at the ribcage, the edge of the loin, the hooks and pins, the tail head, sharpness of the front shoulder and amount of fill in the brisket and flank,” he explained. “We score animals between one and nine.”

Paisley added that one body condition score is roughly 80 pounds of live weight. 

“We have to realize that if a cow has to mobilize energy from their reserves, both protein and fat are used,” he explained. 

Particularly during colder winter months, Paisley mentioned that thinner cows have less insulation and, therefore, six percent higher maintenance requirements – which equates to about one pound of additional feed.

“Thinner cows have higher energy requirements than average or fleshy cows because of body condition score,” Paisley said. 

Stage of production

The stage of production of the cow or heifer – and particularly the stage of gestation – also impacts its nutritional requirements.

“In the last trimester, energy requirements go up by about 30 percent,” Paisley said, “and once they get into milk production, their energy requirements go up by another 30 percent for about 60 days.”

He added, “The stage of production has a big impact.”

Other factors

Cow size, milk production and the nutrition of the feed also impact the reproductive performance of the cow. 

“We know that heifers have higher energy requirements than a mature cow because of her additional growth requirements,” Paisley said. “As cows becomes larger, her feeding requirements also go up.”

The ability of the cow to produce milk also increases nutritional requirements. 

“We know that, given a cow of the same weight, each time we jump 10 pounds of milk production, nutritional requirements jump by three pounds of total digestible nutrients,” Paisley said.

“When we look at production, matching our cow to the environment and resources is pretty important,” he commented. “We have to keep in mind that the short-term nutrition decisions we make may have long-term impacts.”

Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming

The Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming program offers young people the chance to get a taste of the world of production agriculture through a donated heifer. 

In the program, students apply for the chance to receive a registered heifer from a Wyoming seedstock operation. If selected, students work with their donor to develop a management and recordkeeping system. They show and breed their heifer in the first year. 

During the second year of the program, the participant is then also required to return to fair with a video or virtual presentation of their cow/calf pair at the Wyoming State Fair. They are judged on the completeness of their record book, a presentation to a three-producer panel and a production efficiency calculation. 

Applications for the 2015-16 class are available now. The deadline to submit an application is May 15. Interviews will be conducted in June, and donors will be selected in July.

For questions on the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming program, contact Scott Keith at 307-259-3274 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

With abundant forage supplies expected this year, producers can afford to be more selective purchasing their winter feedstuffs. Despite cheaper prices for hay, livestock ranchers should still have a forage analysis conducted so they can get the most bang for their buck.

Hay producers may also want to consider having a hay analysis completed to use as a marketing tool in a buyer’s market.

According to Rick Rasby, Extension beef specialist with the University of Nebraska, producers would be surprised how much forages can vary in nutritional value.

Samples taken

Rasby discussed samples he had taken at a stack yard on alfalfa and native grass hay.

“We sampled a stack yard of alfalfa, and it ranged from 13 percent to 23 percent crude protein. The native hay ranged from four percent to ten percent crude protein,” he explained.

The National Research Council (NRC) requirements suggest alfalfa averages 15 percent crude protein and 56 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN), and native hay typically averages six percent crude protein and 52 percent TDN.

If a forage has 52 percent TDN, it will be difficult for that forage to meet the cow’s nutritional requirements after calving by feeding it alone.

“As we move closer to 56 percent TDN, the forage may be able to meet the cow’s nutrient requirements prior to calving, but we may need to add a little energy after calving to meet her nutritional requirements because they will be higher,” he explained.

“What is important to note from all of this, is not all forages are average,” Rasby continued. “That is why it is important to get our forage analyzed and why it is important to collect a good sample.”

Taking the sample

Producers can access videos through the University of Nebraska’s YouTube channel, NU Beef, to learn how to sample hay. These videos show samples being taken from a big round bale, and from a pile of ground hay. They also give step-by-step instructions for the sampling process.

“It is very important when sampling hay to get a representative sample,” Rasby explained. “Don’t take grab samples on forages.”

“Producers will need to use a hay probe, which can usually be borrowed from their local county Extension office,” he explained.

Representative sampling

Rasby said if a producer has 20 to 25 big round bales of hay, 10 to 12 of those should be sampled to get a good, representative sample. When sampling hay, never sample first, second, third and fourth cuttings of hay together.

“All of those should be separate samples,” he said. “Early cut and late cut hay should also be sampled separately, as well as different varieties like sorghum-sudan grass hay and millet hay.”

After the samples are taken, it is important to identify the sample properly, so the lab analyzing the sample has a good understanding of what is in the bag.

“The forage analysis will only be as good as the sample we have taken,” he said.

Typically, most forages are analyzed in the lab using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR), which is a quick and accurate way to identify the nutrients in the forage.

Results can typically be received within two to three days of sending a sample in, if producers send it at the first of the week.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Cattle have been put under extreme selection pressure for one trait or another. The question is, over time, are we getting closer to cattle that better match our forage resources?” asked Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist David Lalman.

To investigate, he considered a list of factors that would indicate efficient cows, including early sexual maturity, a high rate of reproduction, low rates of dystocia, longevity, minimum maintenance requirements and the ability to convert forage resources to pounds of beef.

“It’s a good exercise to ask whether we’ve improved in any or each one of those characteristics,” he noted.

Lalman and his team gathered data from the Kansas Farm Management Association, the Cowherd Appraisal Performance Software (CHAPS) Summary in North Dakota and the Standardized Performance Analysis (SPA) Summary involving New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The data was specific to commercial cow/calf operations and did not include seedstock or purebred operations.

“The idea was to find data that represented moderate- to low-input operations,” he explained.

Weaning weight

To begin, the research team reviewed simple indices for weaning weights across the operations. Data from the southwest region suggested that weaning weights have not changed significantly over the last 20 years.

“If we look at the Kansas data, we might argue that there was a sustained increase in weaning weight of about 15 or 20 pounds, but since 2002, that has actually been flat or even trended downward. North Dakota data looks like there was some variability early on, with perhaps some slight improvement in weaning weights over a long period of time,” Lalman commented.

Taken together, the data sets don’t show significant increases in weaning weights over the last 20 to 25 years.

“Considering the selection pressure of the industry, that’s somewhat of a surprise,” Lalman stated.

Milk production

The research team also looked at milk production in beef cattle, noting there is a high demand for energy and protein for milk production in cows.

Comparing several different breeds over the last 23 years, the team noticed that most breeds have increased milk production through aggressive selection pressure.

“Milk production comes at a cost, and the year-long maintenance requirement is increased as well,” Lalman said, explaining that high milking cows require higher maintenance costs, even when these cow are dry.

“It’s related to the increased maintenance requirements related to greater visceral organ mass relative to empty body weight. Visceral organ mass is the rumen, small and large intestine, liver, heart and kidney. Of course, those are all very metabolically active tissues, and they are very expensive tissues to maintain,” he said.

According to published studies the Lalman reviewed, cows with moderate to high milk production that are then selected for higher milk production create cows with good yields but also greatly increased conversion factors, meaning that it takes more pounds of feed per pound of milk to produce those high yields.

Forage limitations

“Beef producers need to ask themselves whether there is a limit of milk production their forage can support,” stated Lalman.

To illustrate his point, he explained that a dairy cow may have a high milk yield in her environment at the dairy with high-energy feed, but if that same cow were to be sent out onto the range in Oklahoma, her milk production we be reduced dramatically.

“There’s a limit to the amount of milk yield that the native rangeland in Oklahoma can support. Everyone’s forage has a limit. I’m guessing that perhaps we have met and exceeded that limit in many cases already,” he remarked.

He continued, “I think there’s increasing risk or frequency of cases where forage resources limit the expression of genetic potential for milk and/or production costs have increased because the environment has been artificially modified to fit the cow.”

Surprising conclusions

According to his research, Lalman was surprised to find there was not strong evidence showing that commercial cow efficiency has improved when considering efficiency in a “sell at weaning” context.

“Moderation in genetic potential for milk yield should reduce enterprise risk and improve fertility due to a better match between forage nutritive value and beef cow requirements,” he concluded.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..