Feeding Efficiency Beefs Up Cattle Best

2/9/2013 7:00 AM
By Laura Zoeller Southwestern Pa. Correspondent

GREENSBURG, Pa. — About 30 people were on hand Jan. 30 for the Cattle Feeders Seminar at the Westmoreland County Extension Office, the first of what’s intended to be an annual event.

The primary discussion centered on bunk management and ways to increase efficiencies, led by Robbi Pritchard, a professor in South Dakota State University’s Animal Science Department, whose travel plans were disrupted by weather and spoke by teleconference.

Pritchard said that seeking out inefficiencies in a feeding program is the first step to eliminating them.

“Several things can cost producers a lot of money,” he said. “Improper silage storage can cause shrink, which means it will take more to feed each head of cattle. A 20 percent shrink can cost a producer over $50 per head in extra feed costs.”

Other factors to consider include operating half-full pens, overfeeding silage during the finishing stages, and mixing the types and sizes of cattle in each pen.

“Half-full pens are inefficient because it still costs the same amount in fuel, taxes, heaters and health checks to operate the pen,” Pritchard said. “A higher cost distributed over fewer head means more money per head in inputs and less profit.

“Similarly, when different size and age cattle are mixed in pens, it is far more difficult to manage the proper levels of health and nutrition for each group,” he said. “For example, if a certain age group gets sick, it costs more to have them commingled because you have to feed all of them antibiotics instead of just one pen of sick ones.”

Pritchard also believes that bunk management is the most inexpensive way to improve the feed to gain, or F/G, ratio.

“The goal is to provide stable, consistent fermentation in the rumen,” he said. “And that can be done by managing the nutrient and energy intake of the animals. Basically, you only want to feed at one time what the animals will eat in one day. No more and no less.”

Pritchard suggests feeding the same quality feed, in the same quantity, at the same time each day.

“If this can be done today within 15 minutes of the time it was done yesterday, that is optimum,” he said. “Our studies indicate that it can translate into a 2 pound difference on the F/G in the 58 to 121 days. Record keeping is very important to the process.”

Pritchard charts each pen on a daily basis using a 0-4 scoring key. A score of 0 indicates a clean bunk while a score of 4 indicates all the previous delivery remains in the bunk. Scores 1-3 are variations within those margins.

“We also track a score of one-half,” he said. “That means that a small amount of feed remains, and we log whether it is fine matter or roughage. Ideally, you will score 0 for five to six days out of every week, with the remaining one to two days at a one-half.

“With those scores, you know you are flirting on the edge of the maximum amount of feed the cattle can eat,” he said. “When you are getting consistent 0 scores, it indicates that it may be time for a small bump up in the amount of feed offered.”

According to Pritchard, feeding a large amount of feed today and backing off tomorrow when it is not consumed can be a problem.

“If you get a little ahead of the cows, they start picking out the very best stuff and leave what they don’t want to eat,” he said. “But backing off to ensure cob cleanup in the finishing stages is not profitable as it can cause setbacks in the average daily gain.

“It is best to monitor intake at the front end so you don’t get ahead in the first place,” he said. “The consistency in quantity, quality and schedule translates into relaxed, less-stressed cows who know when their food comes and who won’t rush the gate to make sure they eat.

“And that translates into a better average daily gain, more efficiency and more profits.”

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