Feed Limiters: Almost Unlimited Benefits
By Jimmy Parker
Limit feeding is one tool that many producers commonly use. Most of us have used them and probably never stopped to think about how and why they work. I guess we should define limit feeding before we get any further into a discussion about limit feeds. My definition of limited feeds and limit feeding is any product with a texture or a substance in it to prevent the animal from eating more than you want it to and, hopefully, more than it needs. Salt is a common limiter and probably the most widely used. There are others and some feed companies have spent a great deal of time and money to decide what they think is the best way to limit consumption.
I think at some point all livestock producers have used a limit feed. Most all minerals have limiters; usually they are limited by salt content, although some of the more bitter minerals will limit consumption without salt to drive intake. Salt in minerals plays two roles. It makes them want to eat the product and, at some point, will help limit how much they eat. Many producers have used a hot meal mix to help get cattle through a period where forages are scarce or poor quality. Those have typically been limited by salt consumption. There is only so much salt livestock will consume in a day and we have typically taken advantage of that when we fed these free-choice supplements.
Salt is one of the older and more effective limiters we have available. It is highly reliable after an initial adjustment period and you can easily control how much of a free-choice product your livestock will consume over a period. It is usually economical and that is one of the driving factors in the wide range of products we see it in. It has some drawbacks such as being highly corrosive and shortening the life of many types of feeders, but when managed correctly is still a good choice.
A third type of limiter is a physical one. Bulky feeds with high amounts of fiber that are slow to digest will limit the amount an animal can intake. Some of the less expensive ingredients that are exceptionally bulky will do this with good results if the feed is formulated to meet the animal’s requirements. The CPC Grower feed uses this principle to provide a safe, free-choice feed that calves won’t overeat. Another physical limiter is hardness. STIMU-LYX, our low-moisture tubs, are so hard that cattle cannot bite them and must lick the product to get what they can. The licking action provides a multitude of additional benefits, but for this discussion we will just focus on the fact that the physical form of the product is what keeps cattle from eating too much at any one time. I have also seen temperature used as a limiter in rare situations. Bottle babies feed free-choice, cold milk will only consume a small amount at one feeding, but will feed more often, mimicking a natural nursing situation. This is rare locally, but common in other parts of the country.
There are some times when limit feeding may not be the best option. Young animals that are just starting to eat solid foods are not likely to overeat and should be encouraged to eat instead of being limited. Most all finishing animals will need all the calories they can get to grow and finish like we want, and limiters may hinder your goals. So, while limiters are not needed in every situation, they have a place on most farms at some point.
I would say that 99 percent of cattle farms use limit feeding in some form or another and, if they are not, they probably should be. In today’s busy world, it allows us to provide a constant supply of nutrition with very little risk. I don’t think any of us would want to catch each animal every day and give them the appropriate dose of whatever mineral supplement we choose to use. So, we can appreciate the ease and effectiveness provided by the limiters and our animals can too.