Jim and Pat Lanier of Lanier Limousin, Giddings, TX, faced a big dilemma in the spring and summer of 1998. A severe drought had them wrestling with how to get optimal body condition and bloom on their purebred Limousins by their annual purebred sale in September.

As summer progressed and supplemental feed became increasingly expensive, the Laniers and their neighboring commercial cattlemen were desperate for relief.

"The costs (of supplemental feed) began climbing through the roof," recalls Jim Lanier, "as it was increasingly being used to compensate for the lack of quality forage."

Along with other cattlemen, the Laniers began making inquiries in an effort to decrease their feed costs. An ad for supplemental drought feed from a dairy-focused feed supplier caught their eye.

Cary Zipp, a nutritionist at Gorman Milling, Gorman, TX, says, "As the drought set in, hay became scarce and expensive. As we could buy high-energy feed at a cheaper price, we began combining and promoting alternate carbohydrate sources - soy hulls, peanut hulls, flaked grains, dried distillers, cottonseed hulls, etc. - with grains and added yeast culture to maximize the digestibility of these feedstuffs."

Yeast culture nurtures rumen microflora that break down feedstuffs into the nutrients needed by beef cattle, he explains.

Gorman Milling periodically tests most feedstuffs in an extensive Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) lab. So Laniers knew the quality was there. Two other concerns were distance (Gorman Milling is 200 miles from the ranch) and concern over the cattle's acceptance of a new ration.

The fact that Gorman Milling custom tailors about 90% of the rations it mixes to the specific situation saved Laniers "about 30% on our supplemental feed costs," Lanier says.

"Historically, we've been good at maintaining price," Zipp says. "With 25 major ingredients available, we can change formulas as needed to minimize costs while maintaining nutritional values."

An initial, limited shipment of three tons resolved concerns over ration changes. "We were pleasantly surprised," Lanier says. "The cattle switched over immediately. And the feed was gone in nothing flat." He says the inclusion of dry distillers grain may have helped by enhancing palatability.

Within three weeks, the Laniers were ordering shipments of 23 tons of feed at a time. A mold inhibitor was added to avoid spoilage. Jim tested its effectiveness by setting aside five bags of feed under typical feed-storage conditions. After four months, no signs of spoilage had appeared.

The drought held through the September sale date. The Laniers' cattle, however, showed little, if any, drought stress.

"Several respected cattlemen commented on the excellent sale condition of our cattle," Lanier says. "We felt they were in as good a body condition as we could hope for with most having a body condition score of 6 or 7. They'd been on the drought supplement since early May."

The cattle also had good breed back. Weaning weights ranged from 625-675 lbs. for heifers and 650-700 lbs. for bull calves on a 205-day adjusted basis. In addition, the bulls had adequate yearling weights of 1,068 lbs. on average.

When under pressure to be cost conservative, careful shopping for supplement relieved a lot of pressure for us, Lanier says.

Dennis Herd, a beef cattle specialist in nutrition with Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, offers these drought feeding recommendations.

Plentiful Pasture, But Low Quality * Provide a good mineral supplement to maintain forage intake and efficient use. A complete mineral supplement containing 10-20% salt, 12% calcium, 12% phosphorus, 5% magnesium and 0.2% copper has worked well in many areas.

* Feed a high-protein supplement to maintain forage intake and efficient use of the forage as well as the energy coming off the cow's back as weight loss: 1-2 lbs. to dry cows and as much as 2-3 lbs. to lactating cows. Appropriate supplements include soybean meal, cottonseed meal, protein blocks and liquid supplements.

Pasture Lacking Volume And Quality * If only slightly limited: feed range cubes (20% protein) or mixtures of grain and oil meal protein supplements at rates of 3-5 lbs. per cow daily.

Cubes with a large amount of natural protein and low crude fiber level (less than 10%) are preferred.

* When pasture becomes extremely short: consider purchasing hay or a replacement feed for the pasture and selling stock. Remember, most grass hay has only 50-65% the energy content of grain.

One pound of grain can replace 1.5-2 lbs. of hay or 1.2-1.4 lbs. of alfalfa hay. Start cows on grain slowly and feed so all cows have an opportunity for their share of the feed.

Up to 80% grain can be fed in a maintenance diet for British bred cows, but do not consider such high levels for Brahman cattle. All cattle require some forage in the diet to minimize digestive problems.