Energy/Protein Balance

Protein and energy are two critical components to providing our animals with a balanced ration.  Unfortunately we often focus on one side of the paring or forget that digestion is a complicated process between both sets of nutrients.  When this happens rations become unbalanced. 

Swings in the energy content of a forage are often less noticeable than the impact relatively small shifts in protein can make.  It can be easy to get lazy and “judge the feed by its protein” and lose track of the energy side of a ration, just assuming that it’s covered.  This can result in slow body condition declines, but can really come back to haunt us when animal energy demands peak, like during cold temperatures or at peak lactation.

Beyond giving energy and protein equal consideration when feeding, understanding the relationship between the two during digestion is critical.  Ruminants require protein for two main reasons, for the animal itself and for the microorganisms in the rumen responsible for breaking down hard-to-digest plant parts.  If animals aren’t gaining like we want or it’s a cold day, it might be tempting to supplement a low protein forage diet with some cracked corn.  We’ve recognized the need for more energy and are meeting it right?

Sort of.  The animals could use more energy, but by providing it in the form of starch without additional protein in a diet with less than 9% Crude Protein, we goofed.  Because the animal can’t break down starch efficiently, they need the rumen microbes to do it for them.   Each diet is different, but in this circumstance, the microbes can’t do their job effectively without more protein.  Most of that additional energy is going unused. 

Providing animals with the right balance of protein and energy in a diet is crucial for a healthy herd, but doing so takes some time and know-how.  Don’t forget to look at both parts of the diet and how they interact.  And as always your local beef extension educator is happy to help if you have questions.

-Ben Beckman is a beef systems Extension Educator serving the counties of Antelope, Cedar, Knox, Madison and Pierce.  He is based out of the Cedar County Extension office in Hartington.  You can reach him by phone: (402) 254-6821 or email: .