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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Kirchner

What you can learn from a cow pie...

It is nice that our oldest daughter is at an age where she can ask good questions and happens to share an interest in the health of our cattle. It brings me a lot of joy to share quality time with her while we care for them.

We were recently at the pasture tossing hay bales to our cattle and I commented that a young steer calf needed more protein in his diet. She asked how I could tell. The truth is you can tell a great deal about the health and current nutritional status of your herd from their manure.

For starters, it should have the consistency of pumpkin pie although it will be more green-ish brown as opposed to the orange we're use to for thanksgiving.

Is that a weird comparison? Oh well, I heard it from Greg Judy and it's pretty concrete and has been helpful. So if that's the goal, then you can make adjustments to their diet when what you observe is not ideal.

If there is too much fiber in their diet from the stems and stocks of plants that are dormant and lacking leafy greens then you'll be able to tell. This is what we observed from the steer we were discussing. To fix this issue, he needed more protein in his diet. There are a number of ways to accomplish this.

For example, offering a higher percentage of dried alfalfa in their hay bales would bump up the protein. However, we decided to go with a lick tub. This is because of the very high prices and limited availability for hay this year as a result of the drought our region is experiencing.

The first three ingredients in our preferred lick tub, FlaxLic by SmartLic are beet molasses, ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil. It has a crude protein percentage of 15%. What this does for our herd is it increases the number of beneficial microbes in their rumen and helps them to break down and make better use of the nutrition in the grass they forage and eat from the hay we offer. We are fortunate that our local feed store carries it and we like that the steel barrels are reusable.

Lastly, we picked this product because with flax as one of the main ingredients it adds some extra ALA fats to our cattle which is a healthy omega-3 fatty acid. It is well established that one of the benefits of pasture raised and grass finished beef is that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is more in favor of a healthy and less inflammatory diet than its feedlot finished counterpart.

Thanks for reading and allowing us to share some of our journey in this adventure of finishing great local Montana beef.

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