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Starting cattle right can put you in the black

Heidi Doering-Resch for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 September 2018
Cattle that just arrived

Have you noticed the trend with the Cattle on Feed reports? It seems these surveys continually report an increase in cattle on feed. Up 4 percent (July Cattle on Feed, 2018) from last year in July 2017 and the highest since reporting started in 1996.

With these many cattle hitting the market, and a market that changes more now, day to day, than ever, how do you set yourself apart from the competition? The answer to that question is: performance and quality. Performance starts with getting cattle on feed, and quality will likely follow.

Starting cattle right isn’t about being slow and steady; it’s about being attentive to the pen of cattle that just arrived. Certainly, from a health standpoint, many things need to fall into place. It is highly recommended to talk to your veterinarian and nutritionist to make sure the set of vaccinations and receiving protocols are appropriate for the type and risk of cattle you are receiving.

Not all receiving programs are a one-size-fits-most. There are certain goals each type of cattle needs to meet and certain criteria the cattle feeder and pen walker must make note of.

1. Feed them for their risk factor. Are they preconditioned? Are they bawling? Have they been sold through a sale barn? Are they yearling cattle from the North or the South? All these questions need to be answered prior to the cattle hitting your pen floor. Plan your risk and your step-up program accordingly.

2. Clean, fresh water is key, and the more water space available, the better. One question I always ask is: How much water are they consuming? If you don’t have a meter, then look at the feed in the bunk and their urine color. If they are slow to eat, make sure they know where the water source is.

Many cattle gathered out of pastures aren’t used to an automatic waterer making filling noises in their face. They are used to a stock dam they walked to in order to get a drink. Pay attention to this because if they don’t drink, they don’t eat. Period.

3. Fresh grass hay in the bunk is always a great idea. Shipping stress is hard on the animal because it’s hard on the rumen. Allowing a proper rumen fiber mat to be rebuilt, and bugs to not be depressed due to shipping stress, will allow these cattle to come up on feed in a healthy manner, not necessarily quicker, depending on their risk factor, but healthy and consistent. You must feed the bugs to feed the animal.

4. Feed twice a day on the receiving end if you don’t have a pen rider or walker. I make this statement because it will make you look at the new calves more than once a day if you don’t have that active pen rider or walker. A common health error I find is: At receiving, feeders are not going through their cattle more than once a day for health checks.

If you feed twice a day, you have an opportunity to correct any errors made in the morning feeding. Not all cattle come up on feed the same way. A rule of thumb is to start at 1.5 percent of their bodyweight on a dry matter basis and work up to about 2.5 percent.

I find feeders either don’t feed enough, and cattle are not able to get enough vitamins and minerals to help build an immune system, or they drop too much feed and don’t remove the extra feed – making cattle consume un-fresh feed. Feeding twice a day up-front allows you to adjust your feed calls on the go. Once intakes and health are established, return to once-a-day feeding if you don’t have a pen rider.

5. Only feed fresh feed, whether it’s fermented feeds or dry feeds. Moldy, dusty hay and off-colored burnt corn do not entice an animal to the bunk. Aside from that, moldy feeds wreak havoc on the rumen fiber mat, destroying the animal’s ability to digest fiber and further reducing dry matter intake and performance.

That animal must metabolize the mold through the liver, which can set you up for liver diseases or further health challenges. No one likes to scoop bunks, but it’s cheaper to pay for that labor than a dead calf.

6. Hay should be fed in a form they want to consume. I realize areas differ in what hay or fiber is available, but when ground cornstalks or hard bean stubble are offered in a fresh receiving ration instead of nice ground grass hay, you have already started that animal on the wrong foot if they won’t consume it.

Bunk sorting should not be taught, and a good fiber mat sets that animal up for a healthy rumen. Your total intake will be much better if that animal has nice ground grass hay (or something comparable it recognizes) during its first 45 days on feed.

7. Know how to compute and follow your dry matter intake every day. This helps show how your cattle are coming up on feed, when to look for issues in feed stability, water sourcing or health issues that may arise and need veterinary or a nutritionist’s attention in a short matter of time.

8. Truly look at and analyze your cattle every day. Spend time in the pen, whether horseback or on foot, and look and listen to the animal. How is their gut fill? Do they have nasal or eye discharge? Can you respiratory score them? How is pen environment and condition? Is the water tank clean? If you slowly walk through them, can you pick out the early pulls? Chances of responding to treatment and having better performance hinge on your attentiveness to these animals.

9. Don’t be on your phone when you feed or walk pens. Pay attention so you don’t make unnecessary mistakes.

10. Do the best you can for the livestock in your care. Newly arrived cattle should be treated according to their risk level. The biggest thing you can control is how they are fed every single day. If you receive them into a 5-star hotel type of system and check on them daily for their amenities and provide them a five-course meal, they will, of course, enjoy their stay – but also perform.

Cattle feeding nowadays is about managing your risk, feeding your cattle to their genetic potential and caring for them in an environment they find welcoming. If you noted, this is all about what you can do to make them the most successful. They will pay you back in performance, quality and profits.  end mark

PHOTO: Starting cattle right is being attentive to the pen of cattle that just arrived. Staff photo.

Heidi Doering-Resch
  • Heidi Doering-Resch

  • Beef Technical Specialist
  • Form-A-Feed Inc.
  • Email eidi Doering-Resch