Crisis feeding of weak and poor stock

Crisis supplementation is a survival strategy to provide readily available energy and protein to animals that are in poor condition and weak. Crisis supplementation is expensive and only the most susceptible cattle should be fed: that is those that are very poor, weak and have run out of roughage. Segregation may therefore be necessary and it should be coupled with early and radical weaning of calves to ensure breeder survival. Crisis feeding for several days is also recommended for weak and poor stock before transport.

Types of supplements

Some of the most commonly used crisis supplements in Queensland are listed below with approximate daily intake requirements. Costs will depend on availability, current prices and freight costs. Molasses-based crisis supplements are generally cheaper in areas with reasonable access to sugar mills. Note that the intake of crisis supplements is quoted in kilograms a day as opposed to urea-based supplements which are generally quoted in grams a day. This is an indication of the costs of feed and transport as well as the logistics of feeding out associated with crisis supplementation.

Crisis supplements – examples only Daily intakes – examples only – higher intakes and modified formulations may be required for specific situations
Breeders Weaners >6 months
M8U (molasses plus 8% urea) 2kg 1kg
M3U + 8–10% protein meal 2kg* 1kg
Molasses + 15% protein meal 2kg* 1kg
Grain 1.4kg* 0.7kg*
*Protein meal only 1–2kg* 0.5kg
*Whole cotton seed 3kg 1–2kg

*May require rationing to limit intake to these levels

Molasses-based supplements

  • M8U recipe: 50kg urea (prilled) to 100 gallons of molasses
  • 1 gallon of molasses = 6.3kg
  • Urea must be mechanically mixed in molasses for at least 20 minutes to ensure that the urea is completely dissolved. Use prilled urea.
  • 0.5kg of Rumensin® 100 to 1 tonne of molasses will improve feed conversion. Do not feed to horses.
  • Keep urea-based supplements on offer all the time.
  • It is dangerous to swap from a molasses and protein only mix, to a molasses/protein meal and urea mix. To prevent gorging protein meals should be added gradually to molasses and urea mixes.
  • Do not dilute the molasses or dissolve the urea in water.
  • Phosphorus should also be added in phosphorus deficient areas.

For more information see Molasses supplementation.

Protein meals

  • Intakes of cotton seed meal can be controlled by adding salt.
  • Protein meals should only be fed out every second or third day or twice weekly. This enables the shy feeders to get a share after the bullies have had their share, plus it helps control intakes.

Whole cotton seed

  • Feed out twice weekly.
  • Do not feed whole cotton seed to young calves, pigs, poultry or horses.
  • At recommended rates whole cotton seed (or cotton seed meal) has no detrimental effects on bulls or breeding cows.


In areas without access to molasses and whole cotton seed as energy sources grain may be a cheaper alternative energy source for crisis feeding. Grains, e.g. barley, wheat, maize and sorghum contain around 20% more energy than molasses on a dry matter basis and around 30% more energy on an ‘as fed’ basis. Two kilograms of molasses on an ‘as fed’ basis provides similar energy as 1.4kg grain.

  • The intake of grain needs to be carefully managed as excess intake can result in digestive problems.
  • Feeding in troughs and allowing enough space for all cattle to eat at once reduces wastage and the risk of digestive problems.
  • Cattle should be fed no less frequently than every second day.
  • Grain should be fed whole in crisis feeding situations.


Hay alone, may not supply enough energy or protein to weak or very poor stock. In these situations roughage should only be used as filler; cattle should receive their main nutrients from more cost-effective forms of supplements such as molasses, grain, urea or vegetable protein meals.

If supplied hay needs to be of good quality, with plenty of leaf and free of mould and weeds. The feed value of hay and silage will vary depending on the stage of growth of the crop at cutting and the effectiveness of the curing or ensiling process. Lucerne, which is generally grown specifically for conserving, provides high quality feed. Grassy lucerne is preferable to pure lucerne.

Forages cut before they mature also provide good feed. The feed value of failed crops will vary considerably, depending on the stage of growth of the crop when it was cut. For more information see Hay and silage analyses – what do they mean? Hay made from crop residues is generally of very poor quality and should be fed in conjunction with protein and possibly energy supplements.

Further information