But, the feed tag says only 1.5 pounds/head/day!

An article we published nearly two years ago – Not all corn is created equal! – resulted in questions regarding feed supplement tags, the amount of protein in most of the supplements we’re using in typical Midwest feedlot rations, and why we might need additional protein when the feed tag suggests only using 1.5 pounds per head per day of what is commonly a 40% protein supplement. Good question with a fairly simple answer . . . the tag doesn’t say you don’t need, or can’t use additional protein in order to optimize performance. It simply says to only use 1.5 pounds of that source of protein.

This isn’t a new question. In fact, I’ve discussed it with any number of beef cattle feeders who have asked over the years. If you’ve participated in one of Francis Fluharty’s Beef Feedlot Schools, you know the answer as to why we could enhance performance with additional protein, but perhaps not how or why we find ourselves in this place where at first glance feed supplement tags might imply they can supply adequate protein to the ration at a rate of only 1.5 pounds of supplement per day.

Back in the 60’s I can recall using a beef supplement that was 52% protein with a significant portion of it being derived from non-protein nitrogen. The feed tag recommended feeding 1 pound per head per day of that 52% protein supplement along with all the corn the animal would eat. Considering the cattle we were finishing at the time, back then that 1 pound of 52% supplement likely optimized the performance potential – roughly 2.5 pounds of gain per head per day – of the steers we commonly fed in the 60’s.

Since then, as cattle performance potential has improved and thus, increasing the daily protein requirements, in order to fully realize the increased performance potential of cattle today, it’s likely feed companies have found themselves not wanting to create a supplement for every performance and weight level that a producer might need. It’s simply become most efficient to offer a 40% protein supplement that was balanced with the daily requirements for vitamins, minerals and perhaps an ionophore.  From there, cattlemen can take their energy source, add the appropriate rate of protein supplement as indicated on the feed tag, and then add any additional protein to achieve the desired performance level for the cattle that are on feed. Considering all the by-product protein sources available today, this additional protein might be derived from the most economical protein source available at given time.

Sometimes old habits die hard. Despite the assumption that might be drawn from reading the feed tag, in order to optimize performance and take advantage of the superior genetics of today’s larger framed and higher performing cattle, as suggested in the Tables of Nutrient Requirements in the most recent edition of Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, these animals today simply need supplemented with more protein than a full feed of corn and 1.5 pounds of a 40% protein supplement can provide.