Every feed salesman tries to sell me a high-phosphorus mineral or supplement since I feed alfalfa hay. They say alfalfa is low in phosphorus. What is the real reason?

Whenever alfalfa hay is fed, an increased level of phosphorus is usually required to balance the diet. This is not because alfalfa is low in phosphorus but because it is high in calcium, and we need to maintain about a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio.

According to the National Research Council published values on a 100% dry matter basis, most alfalfa hay has 0.20-0.22% phosphorus and 1.27% calcium. Meanwhile, grass hay has a calcium level of 0.26% and a phosphorus level of 0.26-0.30%.

The grass hay would require some supplemental calcium. However, alfalfa hay has a 6.5:1 calcium:phosphorus ratio, which is not acceptable. In general, grains are low in calcium (0.02 to 0.10%) while legumes are high in calcium (1.2 to 1.7%) with non-legumes being intermediate (0.31 to 0.36%).

Most animals require a narrow calcium:phosphorus ratio - usually 2:1, but ruminants can tolerate wider ratios providing the phosphorus level is adequate. High levels of calcium, 9:1 or 13:1, may depress gain and reduce energy and protein digestion. If the calcium:phosphorus ratio is balanced, the animal can tolerate high dietary phosphorus levels but may not at 6:1 without the possibility of problems.

I recently had some burned, caramelized hay along with some bright, green hay from the same field analyzed for protein. The results came back the same. Why was that?

The producer had the hay analyzed simply for crude protein. Analyzing for digestible protein and by-pass protein would have given different results and a more meaningful value of the hay.

When protein is exposed to heat, the protein is denatured and made unavailable to digestion. It is still protein (nitrogen) but in a form that is not usable to the animal. In the crude protein analysis it is still listed as protein.

A number of producers think a small amount of moldy or burnt hay is no problem, but it is. They lose a lot of valuable nutrients that are unavailable to the animal.

Moldy hay creates the potential for ingesting mycotoxins. These may lead to liver damage, which reduces the longevity of the cow. This is not in the best interest of the producer or the cow. Moldy hay also may affect the rumen microbes.

If you have moldy or burnt hay, I usually recommend that not more than 30% be included in the ration. I try to dilute the poor feed with good feed. Also, I may supplement differently than with good hay - especially vitamins that may be affected by heat and mold.

There may be a drop in consumption if this type hay is in the ration. Moldy hay may also cause abortions in pregnant cows, diarrhea, reduced performance and even death.

I have been bombarded with claims from feed additive companies, feed companies and animal health companies that claim a positive response to their product, which they say I cannot live without. Are their claims true? Are the effects additive?

If a producer used every additive, antibiotic, growth promotant or foo-foo powder on the market, the following things would happen to them - in this order. They would go broke, reduce performance and receive a lot of wish-you-were-here cards from many over-quota salesmen vacationing in Hawaii or Bermuda.

The answer is "no." The effects are not totally additive. The large portion of feed additives work best alone or in combination with a few others. If they worked in an additive fashion (effects of each one individually added to the next), a producer feeding his cattle a large number of additives could expect to feed his cattle free plus have each one give him back a ton or two of feed.

Some additives work better in some situations than others, but the results can't be extrapolated from one area to another with consistency. The additives that are cleared to work together may give better results than each one alone but generally less than if the individual claims are added together.

We need to see what concerns we are facing and select only those additives that will correct the situation, increase production or efficiency and provide a return on investment.

In feeder cattle and growing bulls and heifers, an ionophore should be a given. For weaning/preconditioning, I use AS-700, a tetracycline or Deccox. Yeast cultures should be used more than they are as they are economical and provide enhanced palatability in mineral mixes and increase fiber digestion. Other additives are used on an individual basis, never on a blanket recommendation.

A number of good additives are on the market, but some that provide little return except to the seller. I use the ones that provide a return and benefit to my customers and their cows.