ENID, Okla. —
A small herd of Woods County beef cattle are on trial, not for any criminal misconduct, but as an aid to better understand when wheat pasture cattle consume expensive mineral supplements supplied by their owners.
We know beef cattle on wheat pasture require additional calcium and other minerals and that some percentage of stockers consume free-choice mineral when it’s provided, but we don’t know if it’s in a timely fashion or what impact it has on average daily gain.
Mineral supplements play important economic and performance roles in stocker operations and often are used as a carrier for feed additives that help prevent health problems or improve weight gain in stocker cattle on pasture.
Those additives, though, should be consumed by all cattle in a timely fashion for them to be totally effective throughout the herd. However, if producers assume there is somewhat less than 100 percent of the calves that consume free-choice mineral, we can only guess as to how many calves consume the mineral, and how often.
Poloxalene, used for bloat control, and monensin, used for bloat and coccidiosis control and to enhance weight gain, must have the recommended dose consumed by the cattle on a daily basis in order for the products to work properly, poloxalene, especially.
If we don’t have good, timely consumption, then all cattle aren’t protected from such things as bloat so some very expensive cattle are still at risk when bloat conditions are prevalent, and additives to enhance weight gain may be wasted.
We may learn from this field trial that it is more economical or efficient to provide a small feed supplement with additives in it on a daily basis for herd health during times of greater risk than expecting a free-choice mineral to do the job for us.
Tim Ohm, a Woods County cattleman, has the same questions and concerns, so he offered stocker cattle on wheat pasture as test animal for OSU Extension workers to investigate just what portion of cattle are routinely visiting a mineral feeder and whether there is a correlation with weight gain.
Last November, 45 steers were weighed, tagged with radio frequency identification tags that can be recognized by a computer-assisted reader when individual animals visit a mineral feeder, and released to wheat pasture.
A mineral feeder was equipped with an antenna that reads the eartag of the animal much as an identification chip is read in a pet dog or cat, or a Pikepass is read at a toll booth on one of Oklahoma’s toll roads.
Ohm continues to manage his cattle as he would normally, including keeping the mineral feeder supplied with a palatable supplement he routinely uses with his pasture cattle; meanwhile, a portable generator powers the reader and computer built into the feeder.
To date, we’ve got a mountain of data, over 10,000 individual tag readings from animals that have come for a bite of mineral.
Many of those data entries are duplicates of the same animal just standing with his head in the feeder, but once the data are tabulated to take that into account, many questions may be answered, while the data may also prompt more questions.
The cattle will be weighed again when they come off pasture later this month and the data analyzed and released by April or May.
Producers who want more information on animal health, nutrition and general management programs should their county Extension office.
Highfill is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ag educator for Woods County.