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Roughage Use in Finishing Cattle Diets

Roughage Use in Finishing Cattle Diets

Key Points Roughage serves as a functional ingredient in finishing cattle diets, with key roles in supporting rumen health. Conventional wisdom assumes that roughage inclusions should be no greater than necessary for rumen health (less than 10% of diet dry matter) to maximize feed efficiency.

Greater inclusions of roughage may reduce risk of digestive upset and simplify management with minimal efficiency losses.

Role of Roughage in Feedlot Diets Roughage plays a critical role in digestion and metabolism of dietary nutrients. One key function is the promotion of rumination and regurgitation, which results in greater saliva production and increased ability to buffer acid in the rumen. In addition, longer particles of roughage serve to support rumen wall health and to regulate feed intake.

For these reasons, a minimum amount of roughage is considered critically important in high-starch finishing cattle diets to reduce risk of digestive upsets and optimize net energy intake by cattle. According to the most-recent survey data, the most common roughage inclusion in North America for finishing cattle diets is between 8 to 10 percent of diet dry matter.

Nutritionists typically limit roughage inclusion in finishing diets because those ingredients are less digestible (and thus lower in energy) compared to grain and biofuels co-products. Increasing the amount of roughage reduces net energy concentration of the diet, and consequently reduces predicted daily gain. Roughage also costs more per unit of energy compared to concentrates in most cases, so it is no surprise that roughage inclusion is limited to the minimum necessary for rumen health.

Building a Case for Greater Roughage Inclusion

However, a one-size-fits-all recommendation often misses opportunities to improve results. Feeding a slightly reduced energy density diet by including more roughage may not be as detrimental to cattle performance as often believed. In some instances, increasing the amount of roughage inclusion increases net profit.

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