Nov 11, 2019

As we enter the late fall months, there are several factors to keep in mind when feeding cattle.

Proper bunk management starts with the daily monitoring of how much feed is delivered each day and the consistency of daily feeding. Improving gains and feed efficiency does not have to include additional costs in the long run; keeping cattle on feed and reading bunks each day for these factors will ensure effective management.

Scott Kilber, Agtegra Feed Division Manger, notes how scoring bunks is a great step in managing feed each day: “Giving a bunk score each day and recording it along with what was fed will give the cattle feeder a good reference in making decisions, as well as be an indicator of problems that may be hiding under the surface.”

When scoring, it is important to judge how much feed is left and adjust the next feeding accordingly in order to maximize feed efficiency, eliminate waste and reduce labor required to clean bunks out. Daily records are key in determining if intake should be increased, decreased, or maintained.

Roxanne Knock, PhD Staff Nutritionist for Dakotaland Feeds, offers tips for cattle feeders in adjusting intake: “As a general rule, when starting calves, we do not want to move cattle up on feed more than two pounds of dry matter every two days. Increasing faster can result in digestive upsets and the yo-yo pattern of intake.”

As cattle near taking in three percent of their body weight in dry matter, monitoring bunk aggression will help in determining if cattle are ready for an increase in feed. Cattle may be cleaning up the bunk, but they may not show interest in more feed. On the other hand, they may show aggression at the bunk, which indicates they could handle and show interest in more feed. However, once cattle are steady on intakes, it is recommended not to move the cattle more than one pound of dry matter or more often than every three days. According to Knock, it is also important to remember to look at the contents of what is left in the bunk. Cattle may sort out the ration and leave just roughage or grain. If significant sorting is occurring, ration adjustments may be needed as well.

“Feeding twice a day can increase intake by stimulating cattle to come to the bunk. It also allows producers to see the cattle at least twice a day and notice oncoming sickness or other problems sooner,” Kilber said.

While monitoring feed intake when pushing cattle to gain is important, attention to amount fed is also essential to minimizing occurrence of overfeeding. Digestive issues such as acidosis or bloat can occur when cattle are overfed. Acidosis can cause cattle to stop eating and create digestive issues that lag performance throughout the feeding period. Once bloat begins in an animal, it can often continue as rumen microbes create a constant battle throughout the entire feeding period. Issues such as overfeeding can be easily avoided through proper bunk management, therefore preventing the costly consequences of fluctuations in feed efficiency.

With fall transitioning into winter in the coming months, it is essential to remember how to adjust feeding to keep cattle consistently eating during such changes in weather. Paying attention to cattle behavior at the bunk and practicing regular bunk monitoring is always an important step in maintaining steady intake.

Knock notes how to change rations with the season change: “Depending on your targeted weights or gains, we will want to adjust energy in the ration to help meet those goals. For backgrounding calves, we typically try to start cattle on around 46 MCal of net energy for gain. After cattle are eating consistently, we can consider moving them up to a higher energy ration to get more gain, or we can move cattle down on energy to grow them a little slower as is the case with replacement heifers. If the cattle are not gaining the way you want them to, we need to make adjustments during the feeding period.”

The past year has definitely had its share of beyond normal weather, and when it comes to feeding cattle, the weather can have an impact on eating patterns too. Intakes can easily fluctuate with the temperature, which can make it more challenging to change diet as a result. Storms can cause cattle to go off feed completely; bringing these animals back to full feed may take a few days. Precipitation can make it seem like cattle are increasing intakes, when roughages can actually pick up moisture and make dry matter decrease.  In addition, negative temperatures and mud can cause reductions in gain as well.

While the weather has been less than ideal, Knock notes how feeding cattle can still remain profitable this year: “Being willing to try something different can help you manage through hard times.  The way we have always done it may not work in the current conditions.  If you can position yourself to feed calves, even if it is differently than you have done in the past, there is potential for profit.  We have talked with customers about pasture weaning, backgrounding calves on cover crops or simply looking at how to make their current feed resources work.  If there is a will, there is a way.”

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