Back in basic nutrition class, we were introduced to the concept of “first limiting nutrient.” Take a simplified example: if some calves were eating enough protein, minerals, and vitamins to support 3 pounds of daily gain, but only enough energy to support 2 ½, they would gain . . . 2 ½ lb a day. In this case, energy is the first limiting nutrient. My professors illustrated this with the image of a barrel with one stave shorter than the others – it could only be filled to the top of the short stave, limiting the barrel’s effective volume. But, as I think about it, barrels aren’t something most of us routinely encounter. A more up-to-date example might be having a cell phone with 4G capabilities, paying for a plan that supports 4G access, but being somewhere with only 3G service available. So the local service becomes the “first limiting” factor...and someone who uses their phone for more demanding applications than I do doesn’t get the speed they were hoping for.
A conversation at a conference a few weeks ago got me thinking about looking at this concept in a broader context. I was talking with friends who, like me, are professionally focused on helping cattle producers make their operations as profitable and sustainable as possible. We each work for companies that can provide products or programs that address specific needs or challenges, and we are all confident that we represent valid opportunities to enhance our customers’ businesses. But we’ve all found ourselves in situations where we didn’t – or where we knew we couldn’t – provide the kind of ‘bang for the buck’ being looked for. That’s because there was a “first limiting” management practice on the farm or ranch that needed to be addressed first.
I guess this follows the same line of thinking as ‘holistic management,’ but without the fancy name. What it boils down to is recognizing that not only are all areas of cattle production important, they are so interdependent that we can’t manage (or ignore) one without considering the relationships to all the others.
When cattle are sick, it probably doesn’t matter which efficiency enhancer we add to the diet, or how great their sire’s EPDs were; they still aren’t going to perform at a high level. Infections can place multiple roadblocks in the way of growth and reproduction: