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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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New Approach Produces Healthier Range Cattle

LAS CRUCES - New Mexico State University researchers have developed a new approach to supplying range cattle the crucial minerals and protein needed to produce healthier offspring come calving time.

Mark Petersen, a range animal nutritionist with New Mexico State University's animal science department, holds a newly developed range cattle supplement. The patent-pending method combines 2 ounces of minerals and 2 ounces of highly concentrated protein, and cuts in half the cost of cattle supplementation. (NMSU Agricultural Communications photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

The researchers have devised a patent-pending method that combines 2 ounces of minerals and 2 ounces of highly concentrated protein designed to cut in half the cost of supplementing the cattle's diet.

Strategic supplementation is a big factor in New Mexico cattle ranching success because there is a very strong relationship between reproductive success and cow body condition - a nice way of saying how fat they are. But portliness has to be measured against cost, said Mark Petersen, a range animal nutritionist with NMSU's animal science department.

"We want to prevent loss of body condition so that we don't jeopardize reproduction," he said.

That's where these range feed supplements come into play. New Mexico's harsh conditions frequently put cattle growers at a disadvantage, since the land doesn't naturally supply many needed minerals and protein for optimum health and growth.

The rancher-supplied mineral portion of the cow's diet is much like a vitamin supplement for humans, since it contains phosphorus, copper, zinc and manganese. The new mineral and protein doses don't come in the form of a pill, though, he said. They're supplied in loose form, much like a dried meal, that the animals lick.

Target consumption rate using the new approach is quarter of a pound a day, a huge difference from traditional range supplements where cows will chomp down a pound per day, Petersen said. The major cost reduction will come in reducing the cost of cottonseed meal at about 10 cents a day to near 2 to 3 cents for the new protein supplement.

Years of research found that the new smaller supplement was equal to a traditional mineral and protein dosage, but with several advantages besides costing 5 cents versus 10 cents a day, he said.

The state's ranchers are increasingly interested in reducing feed delivery costs, and the new supplement can be applied during normal feeding schedules, typically about once a week.

Today, there are some 472,000 head of cattle in New Mexico, worth an estimated $952 million, said Manny Encinias, a livestock specialist at NMSU's Clayton Livestock Research Center. Leading cattle producing regions tend to fall on the eastern side of the state, led by Curry, Union and Chaves counties, respectively.

The new supplement is targeted at cows prior to calving to minimize any weight loss during the winter months, Petersen said. The supplementation schedule normally runs from about the Thanksgiving holiday to mid-March.

Without a supplementation strategy in place, a range cow can lose more than 30 pounds during this time, he said. In severe cases weight loss can be 100 pounds.

"It took seven years to develop this smaller supplement," Petersen said. "We wanted to make sure that when we tell the state's ranchers that this will work, we're able to back it up with real world results."

Initial development was done at NMSU's campus laboratories in Las Cruces and the Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center, a research range 20 miles north of Las Cruces that encompasses roughly 100 square miles. The final three years of field testing was completed Shad Cox, manager of the university's 27,000-acre Corona Range and Livestock Research Center. The working ranch laboratory is located near the center of the state, just east of the village of Corona.

Jason Sawyer, currently an assistant professor in Texas A&M University's department of animal science, did much of the initial laboratory work. His work was later complemented by Aaron Stalker, now a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska, who conducted the cattle intake trials.

The new supplement is part of NMSU's continuing goal to develop biologically potent, low cost and easy to deliver supplements for range cattle, Petersen said. Next on his research schedule is a better understanding of amino acid requirements for range cows.

Currently, the NMSU researchers have a patent pending on their new discovery. visit our World Wide Web site at http://cahe.nmsu.edu/news