Going for Gold
Most beef operations in the state see their cattle through from calving all the way through finishing, and many of them do so with management-intensive grazing in an attempt to provide high-quality forage to animals with high nutritional demands. It can be useful, however, to look at different models of beef production in other regions of the country, where they focus primarily on raising stocker cattle that are sold to be finished at feedlots.
Stocker beef cattle usually spend their grazing season on permanent pasture with little attention to their nutritional needs. Typically the goal for gains in these cattle is around 1.5 pounds per day, and then take advantage of compensatory gains once the cattle enter the feedlot. Reaching these types of gains is not difficult during the early grazing season when the quality of the pasture is at its highest. As the season progresses and we enter the dog days of summer, pasture quality diminishes and cattle require supplements to maintain the desired rate of gain.
Oklahoma State University (OSU) has developed a program that has been effective since the 1980’s known as the Oklahoma Gold and Oklahoma Supergold programs. These programs have been tested extensively – at least seven feeding trials. Compared to stockers that didn’t receive the supplement, average daily gain was increased on average 0.37 pounds/day (range 0.27 -0.44).
This program is NOT a pasture extender, it’s a pasture supplement. This program assumes cattle will still be on continuous (not rotational) pastures, but that they’ll also need additional protein to support growth. Researchers at OSU state that grazing cattle need 0.3-0.4 pounds of supplemental protein to optimize forage utilization. Adding this amount of protein increases forage digestibility which in turn increases forage intake and ultimately energy intake and increased gain. For every 1-3 pounds fed you can expect 1 pound of gain.
The supplement is 38% protein and 1% phosphorus, plus an ionophore (200-400 g/ton of either lasalocid or monensin – it’s not strictly necessary, but you should expect gains to be less if it’s left out). Cattle should be fed one pound/head per day or two pounds/head every other day or 2.3 pounds on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Make sure cattle have free access to water. Feeding additional starch or grains is not necessary when using this program. And remember to be patient - cattle will take time to acclimate to the feeding program.
The Supergold program is similar, but can be fed to weaned calves as well as stockers. The primary difference is that this program utilizes a 25% protein supplement with some energy added. The feeding rate is 2.5 pounds/day or 5 pounds every other day. Again, because this is not a pasture extender, expect pasture intake to increase as it does with the Gold program.
Lalman, D., and D. Gill. Oklahoma Gold Q and A Late –season supplementation program for stocker cattle. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ANSI-3032.
Gill, D. and D. Lalman. Oklahoma Supergold Q and A Late-season supplementation program for stocker cattle. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ANSI-3033.