Though they are not considered traditional cattle feedstuffs, research into natural supplements such as flax, yeast culture, and seaweed is showing promising potential for enhancing cattle nutrition and performance. The impressive results from these nutritional additions to cattle’s diets include enhanced immune response, weight gain, beef quality and better reproductive performance.

Yeast Culture’s Appeal

For calves freshly weaned and just getting on feed, yeast culture supplements are proving to be a saving grace at the feedbunk. The yeast culture in receiving rations tends to enhance palatability of the feed, so calves start eating and get past the stress of their new environment.

But making the feed taste better, isn’t the only thing the yeast culture does. It enhances digestibility as well by nurturing healthy populations of microflora in the rumen. These microbial populations actively break down feedstuffs and help make more nutrients available to the calf for its growth and immune system. As a result, the animal’s appetite is stimulated, stress is reduced, and the calf maintains a more consistent dry matter intake.

Beyond receiving rations, yeast culture can be kept in the feedlot ration all the way to finishing to maximize daily gain and feed efficiency. Research conducted by Diamond V Mills reveals that daily gain and feed efficiency was improved in 21 out of 23 feedlot trials (91% response). Approximately 2,500 head of cattle were involved in the trials, and the level of response was such that the economic return was approximately 10 cents per head per day on feed.

Or some feeders turn to yeast culture when they see a problem cropping up. For example, if cattle have a stall-out, where they quit eating either due to stress, weather changes, bloat, etc., feeders will often top dress the ration with yeast culture to boost palatability and get cattle back on feed.

In pasture situations, including yeast culture in a free choice mineral mix – or in creep feed – can improve the palatability and intake of the mineral, which can otherwise be bitter. In turn, the increased digestibility that the yeast culture elicits in the rumen also results in better forage intake and forage utilization by the animal.

A three-year trial at The Ohio State University (OSU) confirmed that providing yeast culture to grazing beef cows can help cows produce heavier calves at weaning.

The research findings, conducted in conjunction with Diamond V Mills, indicated that yeast culture provided with a free choice mineral mix improved mineral palatability and intake, as well as forage digestibility among cows. In turn, cows supplemented with mineral containing the yeast culture had increased milk production and weaned calves an average of 16.2 lbs. heavier compared to calves weaned from cows supplemented with mineral alone.

Most recently, research indicates there may also be benefits related to feeding yeast culture in rations containing ethanol coproducts. The studies indicate yeast culture contains nutritional metabolites that coproducts lose during the ethanol process. Hence, including yeast culture in such rations may make them more nutritionally complete.

CORE MAX is a new line of liquid supplements introduced by Quality Liquid Feeds designed to offer varying levels of crude protein and other nutrients to help balance variations in coproduct feedstuffs. Available in four levels of crude protein – from 10% to 40%, the additional protein provided by the CORE MAX supplements promotes increased microbial activity in the rumen and aids overall animal performance. The liquid supplements also contain calcium and other vitamins and trace minerals beneficial for finishing cattle.

Yeast culture supplements are available from Diamond V, Alltech, Lallemand and several other animal nutrition companies.

Continue Reading: Flax Phenomenon >

Flax Phenomenon

Adding flaxseed (or flaxseed oil) – which is high in protein (22.8%) and oil (40%) – to feedlot rations is showing potential as a nutritional product that improves cattle health and carcass quality, as well as boosts concentrations of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in the beef produced.

Kansas State University beef cattle nutrition professor Jim Drouillard initially began studying flaxseed’s impact on cattle performance about five years ago because of its high omega-3 fatty acid content of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Early studies looked at controlling the inflammation that occurs with bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in cattle and found that when cattle consume the fatty acid ALA, – in this case, flaxseed – the inflammation was partially suppressed which benefited calf health.

Drouillard reports that adding flax to the diet also resulted in large increases in feed intake, meaning calves ate and gained more. As well, among animals fed flax, death loss was reduced, and sick animals appeared to respond more favorably to antibiotic therapy.

More recently his flax research has focused on the finishing animal because of the supplement’s ability to enhance gains, carcass quality and the potential for enrichment of carcasses with omega-3 fats.

Specifically, researchers are finding after flax is fed to stressed feeder calves the first five to six weeks, those calves demonstrate a 10-30% improvement on marbling and quality grade about 180-220 days later. In one instance starting with a baseline of 33% Choice or better, Drouillard says flax may have boosted the figure to 44%. He cites another study where cattle fed no fat had a quality grade base line of 67% and after feeding flax it increased to 82%. When the supplement was changed from flaxseed to flax oil, the improvement jumped to 94% Choice or better, with 39.8% Prime.

Even short-term feeding of flax for just the first 35 days after entering the feedlot has been shown to increase carcass weight. In a study on different fat sources in calf diets during the first 35 days in a feedyard, the control group’s average carcass weight was 663 lbs.; cattle fed tallow had carcass weights averaging 668 lbs.; and cattle fed flaxseed averaged 670 lbs. Those fed flaxseed oil averaged 680 lbs.

Additionally, Drouillard has discovered feeding flax to yearling steers produces a high concentration of ALA in the muscle, which is among the omega-3 class of fatty acids and offers human health benefits. Drouillard reports that feeding flax to cattle for 70-120 days before slaughter can mean a tenfold increase in omega-3 fats deposited in muscle tissue.

Despite its potential, there are some considerations before including flax in your cattle finishing rations. Foremost is economics. Flaxseed, and particularly flax oil, can be expensive ($6-8/bu.), so the producer should identify buyers willing to pay more for omega-3 enhanced beef to make feeding the supplement economical.

Additionally, flax oil is not readily available, and linseed meal [the protein meal remaining after extraction of oil from flax seed] generally isn’t a good source due to the very low level of oil left in it. For his research, Drouillard buys commodity flaxseed, grinds it and adds it to feed at about 10% of the diet.

Drouillard cautions that feeding flax can also create an off-flavor or rancidity, which he says is due to the increase in ALA in the muscle. To resolve the issue, he has found adding vitamin E to the ration (1,000 units or more per day per animal) as an anti-oxidant eliminates the off-flavor problems.

As Drouillard’s flax research continues, he is trying to determine if flax still offers benefits if fed in the unprocessed form. Larger-scale feedlot studies are also underway to better understand more about the timing of flax feeding in order to derive the greatest benefit in terms of carcass quality and carcass enrichment with the omega-3 fats.

Continue Reading: Seaweed Success >

Seaweed Success

A strain of brown seaweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) that grows along the North Atlantic coastline is earning acclaim as a beneficial supplement in cattle diets. Known commercially as Tasco®, the supplement is made from seaweed, and was initially researched in the early 90’s because it showed potential in reducing the endophyte toxicity problem in tall fescue.

Vivien Allen, a researcher at Texas Tech in Lubbock, was one of the first to conduct research with Tasco on fescue pastures while she was at Virginia Tech. Allen recalls that the first group of cattle that grazed the Tasco treated pastures responded with improved immune functions. Surprisingly, the calves reared on those pastures also went on to grade higher at harvest.

The unexpected boon to carcass quality prompted researchers to further study Tasco as a feed supplement. Numerous research trials since that time have showed that supplementing feedlot cattle with Tasco at 2% of the diet for either two weeks early in the finishing period or during the last two weeks before harvest increased the percentage of carcasses grading Choice and Prime and reduced the number of those grading Select or Standard. The most recent recommendation for a quality grade boost is to feed Tasco for two weeks at least 100 days prior to shipment.

Other benefits of supplementing Tasco to cattle were also noted, according to Allen, including an increase in tolerance of hot and cold stress.

Also, producers report improved bull fertility, conception rates, shortened calving intervals, and even better embryo quality for flushes after having Tasco added to their mineral supplements. This stands to reason because if cattle are cooler and eating properly, they should be eating sufficient grass and mineral to breed.

To that end, today Tasco is not only being used to supplement cattle grazing tall fescue pastures, but is also being used in cow-calf and feedlot rations. For cow-calf operations, it is suggested to feed it a minimum of 30 days before turning the bulls out — to both the cows and the bulls.

In a feedlot setting, Tasco can be fed early or late in the finishing period. Supplementing early in the finishing period costs $1.80 to $2/head. Fed late in the finishing period, when cattle are consuming more feed, the supplement costs $3.75 to $4.75/head. However, if over-fed Tasco can cause some negative responses and increased sickness.

Processed by Acadian Agritech, the Canadian company has partnered with Minnesota-based Bio Ingenuity to bring TASCO into the U.S. market. Researchers believe that in addition to cattle, Tasco has potential in swine, horse and even human nutrition, but, more research and testing is needed.