Department of Animal Science


Date of this Version

December 1997


Published for Proceedings, The Range Beef Cow Symposium XV December 9, 10 and 11, 1997, Rapid City, South Dakota.


Beef producers have used experience and guidelines for many years to determine proper level of nutrition for their cow herd. In the early 1900s, research started to compare various feeding programs to determine which feeds or supplements worked best, and then comparisons were made on various levels of supplements to determine how much supplement was needed. In the 1920s, considerable research was conducted at the Valentine, Nebraska Experiment Station (no longer in existence) to see if calves wintered on sandhills range would benefit from cottonseed cake (cottonseed meal was large chunks or "cake" in the 1920s), and a series of other studies determined the "best" level of supplementation. Since that time tremendous quantities of research have been conducted to determine the exact requirement of cattle for all known nutrients.

In order to gain some consensus of opinion on exact cattle requirements, the National Research Council appointed a subcommittee on beef cattle nutrition to evaluate all published data and publish exact requirements for major and minor nutrients for all classes of beef cattle. New requirements are published about every 10 years. The committee has historically met for at least a two year period and has in-depth review and discussion of new nutritional concepts, as well as new research that deals with animal requirements. The subcommittee is made up of highly recognized and respected nutritionists from across the U.S., each having specialties in the various areas of cattle nutrition. They also seek the expertise of others in forming final requirements. Finally, after days and months of review and discussion by the leading experts in the field, the new requirements are published. This is often referred to as the nutritionists' bible. In the past 10 years, nutritionists have used the 1984 Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle. In May of 1996, the 1996 Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle was released. As with any new publication the 1996 requirements suggested several changes, however not without controversy.

How accurate are the 1996 Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle? It is not uncommon to hear comments such as "those published requirements don't apply to your situation because your cattle and conditions are different and as a consequence, my recommendations are different and better." The producers' question should be "what research do you base your recommendation on and then question is it thorough and unbiased?" In 99.9% of the cases the answer to your second question will be no. The 1996 published requirements are the "state of the art" from the top nutritionist in the U.S. The challenge is to apply the requirements in a practical way.

The objective of this paper is to discuss new nutritional concepts and recommendations as outlined in the new publication, and to utilize these concepts in practical feeding recommendations.