David L. Morris: Vet Column 7-11-11
When calves arrive at the feedlot, the importance of getting those calves off to a good start cannot be overemphasized. The feedlot team, consisting of the veterinarian, nutritionist, manager, pen riders and feeders, must all work together to optimize this phase of production. Many of the principles apply throughout the feeding period. Critically reviewing current practices, asking why are we doing that, and identifying things that shouldn’t be done is a part of everyday management.
Investigators from New Mexico State University recently overviewed many of the common mistakes made when feeding cattle, especially when starting on feed. Feeding for health was the ultimate goal. This was defined as the individual animal consuming the proper nutrients at the proper units/levels for the promotion of healthy, cost efficient growth. Some of the common mistakes, often unintentional, are listed below.
Inconsistent feeding times can be a feeding management problem. Cattle should be fed within 15 minutes of when they were fed the prior day. Bunks too high for calves can compromise access to feed. Although large calves have been the norm in the recent past, smaller calves coming into feed yards may require attention to feed accessibility.
Another feeding management issue is having cattle standing around waiting on late feed trucks. Standing costs 15 percent more in maintenance as it requires more energy than calves lying down. Not recording pulls for the feeder can lead to overfeeding them at the next feeding.
Ration changes in a beef feedlot are inevitable. One should avoid changing the ration and at the same time increase the amount of feed. As obvious as it seems, a common mistake seen in many feedlots is feeding unfamiliar diets to cattle. Feeding silage to previously grass fed calves will reduce and/or delay intake.
Don’t blame everything on acidosis. Even after a calf dies, fermentation in the rumen continues after death. Measuring the pH on necropsy is valuable, but should be interpreted in the context of a complete necropsy examination.
Be careful to avoid feeding various ingredients free choice. Cattle will sort feed. Minerals are important in receiving diets. Do not overlook providing adequate amounts.
Receiving pens located next to shipping pens can be convenient for the feedlot crew, but not so good for received cattle. If received calves are not allowed some rest after arrival, it adds additional stress. This can even be further aggravated by mixing wild cattle with bunk broke cattle. Sometimes it is best to locate wild cattle separately, consider placing extra feed troughs in the pen, or even feeding at night to lower aggravation.
Another well understood mistake is mixing 400 pound calves with 700 pound calves. It happens even when most know it shouldn’t.
In the hospital pens, be sure adequate water and water space is available. As well, be sure to clean out the feed troughs regularly as feed tends to be left longer in this area of the feedlot resulting in unappetizing rations. Don’t forget the need for salt or mineral blocks in the hospital pens as well.
Attention to detail is often what separates success from not so successful outcomes. Feeding cattle is an art as well as a science. The art of cattle feeding should not be taken for granted.