The Cowculator software is easily accessible at home or in the field.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Media Contact: Sophia Fahleson | Digital Communications Specialist | 405-744-7063 |

Oklahoma is one of the top five states for beef cattle production and has the second largest beef cow inventory in the country.

With Oklahoma weather and conditions always changing, these producers must be confident in what they feed their livestock.

Feed and pasture costs in beef production account for up to 55% of total costs, said David Lalman, Oklahoma State University Extension specialist for beef cattle.

To help producers, OSU Extension designed a downloadable software with that in mind, Lalman added.

Known as the Cowculator, the software allows producers to make sound nutrition management decisions based on science.

Dr. Richard Prather, a veterinarian at Ellis County Animal Hospital, said he uses the Cowculator for his cattle operation and also recommends it to his clients.

Because annual feed and forage costs are some of the greatest expenses in a cow-calf operation, Prather said balancing winter rations is one of the more critical areas to focus management resources to reduce costs and improve profitability.

The program provides a way for producers to develop a specific diet, including nutrient supplements to feed their cattle.

The program also does this in the most cost-efficient way, said Paul Beck, OSU Extension specialist for beef nutrition.

“Through the 2022 drought, the OSU Extension Cowculator was quite useful,” Prather said. “Different hays were costing different prices.

“Depending on the status of the post-weaning or post-calving, the cows have different protein and energy needs, the software program helps producers use data-driven decisions to maintain cow condition and optimize production with balanced feed costs.”

The program allows producers to adjust their feeding and supplementation based on the time of year, the forage quality and the requirements of the livestock.

“I use the Cowculator to balance diets for my calves at weaning,” Beck said. “I want to make sure I’m using the appropriate nutrition to get them to gain weight but also to not spend too much money on that gain.”

Many advantages come with using the Cowculator software program, but having a quick, efficient way to balance rations is beneficial, Beck said.

“If a producer needs to know an answer quickly,” Beck said, “it’s much easier to use this software than try to develop your own formulas. It is possible, but this is much handier.”

Lalman created the original Cow-culator program around 2001 to assist in beef cattle diet evaluation, he said.

“Of all the things I have done in OSU Extension, this has been one of the most impactful,” Lalman said.

Lalman used the 1996 and previous versions of the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle book to create the first version of the Cowculator, he said.

The Cowculator software was updated in 2018 by Lalman, Beck and Megan Gross, who was a master’s student at the time of the research and is now a territory sales manager for Ralco Nutrition.

They used the 2016 National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle book, along with years of research and previous versions of the book, Lalman said.

The software behind the Cowculator has been totally rebuilt, Lalman said.

“The software was essentially updated to give producers one software program for all their beef cattle needs, not just one cow model,” Beck said.

Cowculator was not always this user friendly, Gross said.

“Cattle have changed within the last 20 years,” Gross said. “They have evolved, and they are a lot bigger, meaning their nutrient requirements have also changed.”

The updated version will find the nutrient value for cow-calf operations, growing cattle operations and finishing cattle operations, unlike the previous version, which just let you compose a diet for cows, Lalman said.

“With the update, producers can customize the program to fit any breed of cattle or any weight,” Beck said. “There are different criteria the user can customize that have to do with the breed, their milk production or their expected calf birth weight.”

The updated version of Cowculator allows users to enter a current body condition score and a desired score. The software then gives a projection on how long it will take to get to the desired condition, Gross said.

“There are even extra equations built into the software just because those growing cattle have higher nutrient requirements,” Gross said.

This program is not only used by producers, but also several universities use it in the classroom to teach students about balancing rations and feeding cattle, Gross said.

“The old version of Cowculator was fairly popular,” Lalman said. “The new version is far more popular.”

The updated version allows Lalman and his team to get limited information about the users and where they are accessing the system from.

The software asks for the users’ zip codes, role in the cattle industry and the class of cattle they intend to use the program for.

This information allows Lalman and his team to collect statistics on the Cowculator’s use.

Data show where the software was downloaded and what people are most interested in — cow-calf, growing cattle or finishing cattle, Lalman said.

“We also collect email addresses so we have a way to communicate program updates to users,” Lalman said.

The numbers show the updated version of Cowculator was downloaded more than 2,000 times in 40-plus states and 53 different countries.

Lalman also collected data through an impact survey, which indicated the financial benefit in users’ operations was an average of $1,500 per year, for a total estimated annual impact of $3.2 million in 2022.

“Cowculator can give people the confidence in their nutritional management decisions in 10 to 15 minutes,” Lalman said.

Unlike many other nutrient supplement programs, the OSU Cowculator is free.

“I would rather people use it to have an impact on their lives than monetize it,” Lalman said.

Tutorials and information online can help users, Beck said.

“All OSU Extension educators receive training on how to use the Cowculator,” Lalman said. “When people have questions, we have them send us their file. We personally look at it to figure out what is wrong.”

Beck wants cattlemen to know this resource is available, he said, and OSU offers several ways to receive help with getting started using the Cowculator.

“We’re always available — either a county office educator, an area specialist or even a state specialist,” Beck said. “We are here to help.”