Feed Your Herd a Hot Meal Mix for Wintertime Health
By Jimmy Parker
Hot meal mixes have been a wintertime staple on many farms in the Southeast for several decades. They can be a convenient and useful tool for wintertime supplementation. They were precursors of the blocks and tubs many farmers feed today. While a high percentage of our local producers have gone to tubs that tend to be more cost-effective, there are still some who prefer the meal-type mixes.
Like with any type of feeds, there are several options ranging from a fairly inexpensive basic mix to ones that are fortified with lots of vitamins, minerals and other additives to fulfill specific needs such as added magnesium to prevent grass tetany. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for; if you choose to feed this type of supplement, I would recommend asking questions and making sure you get a mix that helps to meet your animals’ needs and your production goals.
These products are designed to be fed free choice. You just put them out in a relatively dry place and allow the cattle to eat as much as they want. Fortunately, they are most often limited with salt. Salt is a good and safe way to limit consumption if the cattle have had access to plenty of salt prior to the addition of the salt-limited feed. If the cattle are deficient in salt, they will overconsume the hot meal mix until their salt craving is satisfied.
That brings us to the question of how much salt will a cow eat. As a general rule of thumb, cattle will generally eat 1 pound of salt for 1,000 pounds of body weight if it is mixed with something she really likes. So, a 1,000-pound cow will max out at around 1 pound of salt and a 1,300-pound cow will max out at about 1.13 pounds of salt.
When looking into hot meal mixes, the ratio of feed products to salt is a crucial bit of information to keep in mind. You generally see them listed as a 1:1, 2:1 or 3:1 ration. What that means is that a 1:1 is 1 pound of feed for each pound of salt. A 2:1 is 2 pounds of feed to 1 pound of salt and a 3:1 is 3 pounds of feed to 1 pound of salt.
You can also add those two numbers together and get roughly what a 1,000-pound cow will eat in a day. So, if you have cows that weigh around 1,000 pounds and you use a 1:1, they should eat 2 pounds of the mix that will give them 1 pound of feed and 1 pound of salt. That same cow would eat a total of 4 pounds of a 3:1 (3 pounds of feed and 1 pound of salt).
It is important to keep in mind that the bigger the cow, the more she will eat in a day’s time. For instance, if a 1,000-pound cow eats 4 pounds of a 3:1 then a 1,200-pound cow would eat almost 5 pounds. That calculation is fairly simple. Take your cow’s weight (1,200) and divide it by 1,000 (1,200/1,000=1.2) and multiply that times what a 1,000-pound cow would eat. So, 4 pounds (for a 1,000-pound cow) times 1.2 would equal 4.8 pounds. That is what you would expect a 1,200-pound cow to eat each day.
When we choose to feed these type feeds, our end goal should be to help our livestock get more out of the grass or hay they are eating. The thought behind this supplementation is to add nutrients to the rumen to help the bacteria digesting the grass or hay do a better job using the forage in front of them and hopefully help the cow stay in better body condition that will help with growth, reproduction, lactation and all of the other things that help your bottom line.
Two final things to keep in mind when you choose to feed a hot meal supplement: first, the cattle will be getting all the salt they need and will not likely visit a mineral feeder or salt block. You will need to make sure you buy a hot meal mix fortified with vitamins and minerals or you will most likely have cattle deficient in those areas, and you may create unexpected problems by feeding the hot meal. Second, cattle will most likely eat more hay when they have access to hot meals. The meal itself should enhance forage digestion and speed the digestive process up a bit so the cattle can hold more hay each day. That is what it is designed to do and will actually benefit your herd. They will eat more hay and get more out of the hay they eat, helping them stay in a better body condition.