Electricity — and the comforts it provides – is something most of us in the modern era have taken for granted. Or at least we did: Until the February 2021 power outages across Texas and other regions during a frigid winter storm put the spotlight on what life is like without one of our most valued modern conveniences.


This experience made me more aware of the need to remind ourselves of the important tools we and our industries utilize daily but may take for granted. As well as recognizing the repercussions when those everyday items see a price hike.

As I reflected on my work within the cattle feeding sector, I realized feed additives are a valuable – yet often overlooked – tool that are useful to boost feed efficiency, which is especially important as we see grain prices rising. Feed additives help cattle grow and perform better on less feed – ultimately saving producers and feeders money.

The use of feed additives like monensin and beta agonists to increase feed efficiency and body weight gain among feedlot cattle is largely standard practice at feed yards today. But it is worth reviewing why these products are beneficial – for the animal, the producer/feeder, and even the environment.

Healthier animals

While monensin is touted for feed efficiency and gain, it also helps provide coccidiosis control. This allows feeder cattle to maintain health and utilize the energy from feed nutrients for gain as opposed to fighting illness. Bottom line: Healthier animals gain better.

More efficient cost of gain

Ionophores typically boost feed efficiency and gains 3 to 5%, and beta agonists help keep feed efficiency from tapering off during the last 30 days of the feeding period. When you do the math on the extra gains these feed additives can produce across an entire lot of cattle, it can really add up for the producer or feeder. Adding 10 more pounds per head for a minimal investment can return an extra $10 to $15 per head. And, with current corn prices creeping up, it becomes more important than ever to utilize additives that improve feed efficiency and drive the cost of gain down.

Reduction of methane emissions

One of the more exciting benefits from the use of feed additives like monensin, and one that I believe the cattle industry will be talking about more in the future, is the reduction of emissions into the environment. But how does that happen? Monensin molecules change the production of Volatile Fatty Acids (VFAs) within the animal’s rumen from butyrate to propionate. This is beneficial because the change to propionate reduces the production of methane and other waste gases. Thus, increasing propionate with the rumen helps decrease methane production and increase animal performance. It’s beneficial for the animal – and our environment.

While these three benefits to cattle from feed additives may be subtle, I assure you they are at work in the feedlots who utilize them and add up to make a big difference – in pounds and dollars. And, just like electricity, it’s nice to know that it’s there.

Jay W. Johnson, PhD, is a Technical Service Nutritionist for the U.S. Cattle Business Unit of global pharmaceutical company Huvepharma.