The relationships between animal nutrition, health and performance are complex, and scientists continue to discover new interactions. We know, however, that small amounts of key nutrients can make a big difference. At the NCBA trade show in Tampa, we sat down with Troy Wistuba, beef research manager for Novus International to discuss some of those interactions.

In today’s market environment, even small improvements in feed efficiency, weaning weights or reproduction add up to improve a beef producer’s bottom line. And the right supplements can provide those improvements. Wistuba says, for example, that methionine, an essential amino acid for protein synthesis, is often limiting in cattle diets. Methionine supplements such as Alimet or MFP, he says, can improve performance and reproduction efficiency.

A study in Montana showed that feeding a methionine supplement to beef cows from 30 days pre-calving through 60 days post-calving resulted in improved milk quality and quantity, leading to an average of 47 pounds heavier weaning weights for calves. A study on stocker cattle in Florida showed that supplementing 15 grams of a methionine supplement improved average daily gains from 1.2 pounds to 1.5 pounds compared to control cattle.

Results of studies at New Mexico State University indicate methionine supplementation helped cows maintain body condition during early lactation, improved pregnancy rates and shortened calving intervals.

Novus also supplies feed companies with chelated trace minerals, and their “Mintrex” product, which contains trace minerals along with methionine, recently won the 2012 North American Animal Feed Ingredients Product Differentiation Excellence Award.

Wistuba also says essential oils derived from specific plant sources can improve rumen function and thus improve performance. The company’s “Next Enhance” product for example, contains cinnamaldehyde and garlic oil, which increase the efficiency of dietary protein and carbohydrate utilization. The product improves gains and feed efficiency in growing and finishing cattle while reducing production of methane and ammonia.

A number of growing and finishing trials have shown improvements in feed efficiency and daily gains averaging about 5 percent. Wistuba says that when the product is fed in conjunction with an ionophore, it provides gain and feed-conversion benefits on top of those provided by the ionophore. The product also has become popular in all-natural feeding programs where it can be used in place of ionophores.