It’s More Than Corn: Balanced Diets & Nutrition
This is the first post in a series, to continue the discussion of grain-fed and grass-fed cattle.
Animal nutrition is like human nutrition or should I say, human nutrition should be like animal nutrition? A balanced diet keeps the body healthy and functioning properly.
Often times, through various social media and traditional media platforms, I see statements that would lead the reader to believe that cattle are just being fed corn; so I felt compelled to put together a simple post that explains what is involved when preparing a ration for cattle. Saying that cattle are fed on corn alone makes as much sense as saying that you can be healthy by eating nothing else than meat, or living a healthy life by only eating apples. Cattle, like humans, require a balanced ration.
What is a balanced ration?
A balanced ration provides all of the essential nutrients in proportions that properly nourish an animal, when fed in proper amounts for a 24 hour period time. In order to balance a ration, one needs to consider the age and function of the animal. Similarly, for you to remain healthy, you need to eat a diet that supplies your body with the nutrients that it needs, based on your age and activity.
What does age have to do with a ration?
The age of the animal determines what their nutrient requirements are. It is important to understand the growth curve of an animal. The stage of the animal’s life determines what nutrient requirements it has. The sigmoid curve (shown below) represents the growth pattern of all animals, including humans. The X-axis (left – right) represents the age or time, the Y-axis (bottom – top) represents the mass or weight.
The first stage (1/4 of curve) represents the period of time when brain functions, nerve development and basic body functions develop. The second stage (middle 1/2 of curve) represent the development of muscle and skeletal growth. The third stage (last 1/4 of curve) represents an increase of mass / weight due to fat deposition. Rations are formulated based upon the nutritional needs of the animal in correlation with where on the sigmoid curve the animal is. Cattle are like humans, their nutritional needs change as they mature.
What are the functions of feed nutrients?
There are four general functions that nutrients serve, in animals and humans. Three are considered basic functions and the fourth is an accessory function. First, nutrients are used as structural material for building and maintaining body structure: bones, muscles, skin, organs, connective tissue, teeth, hair, etc. Nutrients included here include protein, minerals, fat and water. Second, nutrients are used as a source of energy for heat production, work and fat deposition. These include carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Third, nutrients are used for regulating body processes and regulators; these include vitamins, enzymes, hormones, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids. The accessory function on nutrients is for milk production. Just as in humans, if animals are deficient in essential nutrients, health is compromised.
What does the function of nutrients have to do with a ration?
Remember the sigmoid growth curve? Cattle are fed a ration, that contains the required nutrients, that is appropriate for their age and use. Like a baby, if a calf does not receive colostrum, the mothers first milk, within the first 12 hours, it is at risk of a compromised immune system. Like pre-teens, if weaned calves do not have access to required protein, vitamins and minerals, their growth will be stunted and are at higher risk of getting sick. Like teenagers, if young yearlings do not have access to required protein, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, they are lethargic, risk injury and are at risk of fertility challenges. Like highschool graduates, if yearlings eat a diet higher in protein than carbohydrates, they continue to grow and do not lay on fat. Unlike humans, in cattle, at a year of age, we want them to stop growing in height and length. Around a year of age, we decrease the amount of protein and increase carbohydrates to get them to “finish” or put on fat, which is both intermuscular (in the fat or marbling) and subcutaneous (fat under the skin). However, although we are feeding to make cattle fat, this does not mean that we feed only grain, but that is for the next post to follow shortly.