Improving Feed Efficiency in Feedlot Cattle

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1 Improving Feed Efficiency in Feedlot Cattle Dennis Lunn, Ruminant Nutritionist Shur-Gain, Nutreco Canada Inc. August 2006

2 IMPROVING FEED EFFICIENCY IN FEEDLOT CATTLE Dennis Lunn, Ruminant Nutritionist Shur-Gain, Nutreco Canada Inc. Improving average daily gain (ADG) has been the standard in measuring feedlot performance. However, improving feed efficiency is more important to feedlot profitability. Feed efficiency is the measure of how much dry matter cattle eat compared to their daily gain. An example is a 6:1 feed-to-gain ratio. For every 6 pounds of dry matter an animal eats it will gain 1 pound. A lower feed-to-gain ratio means that cattle are more efficient. Typical feed-to-gain ratios for cattle on a dry matter basis are: Growing calves is 4:1 Finishing cattle is 6-8:1 Researchers in Alberta have determined that a 10% decrease in feed-to-gain ratio could potentially increase profit by up to $20 per head while a 10% higher feed-to-gain ratio could lower profit by about $25-30 per head. An alternative method of measuring feed efficiency is the gain-to-feed ratio. It measures the amount of gain compared to the amount of dry matter an animal consumes. For example a gain-to-feed means that for every lbs an animal gains it will consume 1 pound of dry matter. A higher gain-to-feed ratio means cattle are more efficient. There are many components that affect feed efficiency. Environmental factors, nutrition and bunk management, feed additives and implants and animal factors all play a role in feed efficiency. Improving on any of these can improve feedlot profitability. Environmental Factors: The housing conditions that feedlot cattle are raised in can affect feed efficiency. One example of this is the amount of mud present in cattle pens. Research at South Dakota State University showed that with more mud present in cattle pens, average daily gain and feed conversion were significantly impacted. Effect of Mud on Cattle Performance Mud Depth in Pen Daily Gain Feed Conversion 4 to 8 inches -14% -12 to 13% 12 to 24 inches -25% -20 to 25% Bruce, 1984 If cattle are housed in muddy conditions feed efficiency can be reduced by up to 25%. Cattle housed in muddy conditions have an increase in their maintenance energy requirements. This leaves less energy for gain. Muddy conditions near feed bunks also discourage cattle from eating resulting in reduced performance. Cattle will make fewer

3 trips to the feed bunk. These cattle will then consume larger meals at one time. This gorging on high grain diets can increase the incidence of digestive upsets and rumen acidosis. Cattle walking in muddy pens are also more susceptible to foot rot. Ways to reduce mud content in pens include: Keep pens bedded with straw. Decrease animal density during early spring when mud is more of an issue. During dry conditions have 200 square feet/animal; during spring have square feet/animal. Make sure pens are well drained. Temperature can also impact feed efficiency. The thermal neutral zone for cattle is between 15 C and 25 C depending on breed of animal, body condition, hair coat length and colour and plane of nutrition. If cattle are housed in temperatures outside this range they become more stressed. In colder weather maintenance energy requirements and dry matter intakes increase. Cattle that are cold stress must increase their metabolic rate to supply more heat to get back into their thermal neutral zone. Cattle will increase their feed intake to achieve this. This will reduce daily gains, ultimately affecting feed efficiency. Key areas feedlot producers can improve feed efficiency during cold weather include: Provide adequate shelter and wind protection and windbreaks for cattle. A sevenyear study in Iowa found that giving cattle access to shelter during winter months improved feed efficiency by 11%. Keep cattle dry through proper pen management by bedding pens. Wet hair coats will impact the lower critical temperature cattle can handle. Mud on an animal will also reduce the insulation value of the animals hair coat. Heat stress will also negatively affect feed efficiency. Dry matter intake decreases during hot weather. Under extreme conditions cattle can die from heat stress (especially in heavy cattle ready for market). Strategies for reducing heat stress include: Supply cool, fresh water is essential to reducing heat stress in feedlot cattle. On days exceeding 27 C cattle will need more than 7.5 liters of water per 45 kilograms of body weight. Extra water troughs should be available to cattle during hot weather to help meet their requirements. Avoid handling cattle during hot weather. If cattle must be handled do it early in the morning or late in the evening when it is cooler. Change feeding routines and consider diet changes. Feeding cattle in the evening (when it cools down) can help keep cattle on feed and even out consumption. This can help reduce the incidence of acidosis. It can also help keep feed fresh in the bunk.

4 Ration and Feed Bunk Management: The ration being fed to cattle and bunk management both affect feed efficiency. Feeding higher levels of grain will improve feed efficiency. The Effect of Corn Level in the Diet and Feedlot Cattle Performance. % Grain in the Diet 30% 50% 70% 90% Average Daily Intake (kg) Average Daily Gain (kg) Feed:Gain Horton et al. 1981, Animal Production 32, 267 Finishing diets of 80-90% grain will result in significantly improved feed efficiency over more conservative higher roughage based diets. High grain diets are now more rumen friendly to feed. This is due to improved feed bunk management and the advent of buffers and ionophores. Grain processing can also improve feed efficiency and overall profitability. Depending on the feeding program processing or not processing corn can have a dramatic impact on feed efficiency. Whole corn diets can improve feed efficiency compared with feeding rolled, dry corn. However, if hay or other forages are offered with whole corn and cattle consume more than 10% of the diet as forage then the corn should be processed to improve feed efficiency. In corn silage based diets corn should be processed to improve feed efficiency. Feeding steam flaked corn will also improve feed efficiency compared with dry corn. However, the cost associated with steam flaking corn may not make it economically viable as the added cost may negate the improved animal performance. The higher moisture of steam flaked corn may also result in more rapid mold development in feed. Feeding moldy feed can reduce feed efficiency. Meeting protein requirements of feedlot cattle is an essential part of improving feed efficiency. Growing cattle ( lbs) will need a higher protein diet than finishing diet as younger cattle are gaining more lean growth compared to finishing cattle. Growing cattle generally need a 13 to 14% diet while finishing cattle requirements are closer to 11-12%. Implanting programs also affect protein requirements.

5 Effect of Dietary Protein and Implants on Performance of Steers during 1 st 85 days of finishing period. Implant No Yes Protein, % Start wt, lbs ADG, lbs DMI, lbs Feed/Gain Trenkle, 1993 Minnesota Nutrition Conference In this study implanted steers had improved feed efficiency compared with nonimplanted cattle. In the non-implanted cattle increasing protein level did not improve feed efficiency significantly. However, with implanted cattle, increased protein levels improved ADG and feed efficiency. Guidelines for protein levels in finishing cattle are (based on implant strategies): Protein Guidelines for Finishing Cattle Implant Strategy Protein Level in the Diet Normal Implant >11.0% Aggressive or TBA Implant 12-13% Other factors besides implant strategy will determine how much protein needs to be fed. High grain diets need a higher protein level. Cattle need higher protein diets in this situation to meet their growth potential. More conservative roughage based finishing programs require lower protein diets. Not only does the actual ration itself affect feed efficiency but how the ration is delivered to cattle has an impact as well. Bunk management is crucial in improving feedlot performance. The objective is to have cattle eating a consistent amount of feed on a daily basis. Cattle with fluctuating or roller coaster intakes will impact feed efficiency. The Effect of Feed Intake Variation on Feed Efficiency Constant 10% daily variation 10% weekly variation Average Daily Gain, lb Intake, lb/day Feed:Gain Gaylean et al. (1992) Cattle with fluctuating intakes are more likely to be experiencing rumen acidosis and digestive upsets. One way to reduce feed intake variation is to monitor cattle behaviour. If cattle look hungry and are lined up at the manger it indicates that cattle should be offered more feed. However, the amount of ration being increased should not be more that 5-10% at one time. If more than this is offered cattle may over indulge on the ration. This may result in cattle backing off feed (due to rumen acidosis) and start the roller coaster feed intake pattern. Wait for 3 days after the initial increase in feed to

6 allow cattle to be adjusted to the new amount before increasing the amount of ration again. Weather patterns will affect feed intake in cattle. Feed intake will increase prior to storms, drop during storms and increase again after storms. Increasing the roughage content of diets after storms can help keep cattle on feed. This can reduce the incidence of acidosis as cattle come back on feed. Bunks should be cleaned out after a rain or snowstorm with fresh, palatable feed to improve feed intake. Bunk management will impact feed efficiency. On whole corn diets research has shown that feed offered free choice improves feed efficiency. However, on forage-based diets, managing cattle on a restricted or a clean or slick bunk will improve feed efficiency. Reducing the amount of ration offered from an ad libitum or free choice system can improve the ration digestibility and ultimately feed efficiency. Effects of Limit Feeding Performance of Crossbred Yearling Steers (avg. of 2 trials) Feed Offered Ad libitum 96% of Ad libitum 92% of Ad libitum Average daily gain, lb Feed Intake, lb Feed/gain Plegge et al (MN Cattle Feeders Report) Feed Additives and Implants: The use of feed additives and implants has resulted in significant improvements in feed efficiency. Some of the feed additives that can be used to improve feed conversion include: Ionophores: These additives have the ability to alter the rumen bacterial population resulting in improved rumen fermentation. This results in more energy derived from the feed ultimately improved feed efficiency. Ionophores have many benefits when fed to feedlot cattle including: Reduced incidence of coccidiosis Improved weight gain and feed efficiency Ionophores can also help reduce the incidence of acidosis and bloat. Feed efficiency is generally improved by 6-12% when ionophores are fed. Rumensin can be fed at 11, 22, or 33 mg/kg in the diet. Bovatec can be fed at 36 mg/kg in the diet. Posistac can be fed at 100 mg/head/day. Follow proper drug levels and combinations with other drugs for each of these products.

7 MGA The suppression of estrus (heats) in heifers can reduce injuries and energy losses due to riding and chasing. Less riding can also reduce the incidence of bruising and dark cutters. MGA (Melengestrol Acteate) is a synthetic hormone similar to progesterone that prevents heifers from coming into estrus. When MGA is fed to heifers, feed efficiency is improved by 5%. MGA is fed at 0.4 mg/head/day and has a 24-hour withdrawal time. Tylan Acidotic conditions in the rumen are the starting point for the development of liver abscesses. Ulcers in the rumen wall can occur under these conditions resulting in certain bacteria leaving the rumen and going to the liver. These bacteria will then cause liver abscesses. Feeding tylan at 11 mg/kg in the diet will reduce the incidence of liver abscesses. Feed efficiency can be improved by 3 to 5% by reducing liver abscesses. Implants One of the easiest ways to improve feed efficiency is through the use of implants. Implants contain natural or synthetic compounds that act similarly to hormones. Estradiol implants used in feedlot cattle can improve feed efficiency by up to 10%. Trenbolone acetate (TBA) implants can provide an additional 3-5% improvement in feed efficiency. Some key points to remember about using implants: Payout period the range that an implant is effective in an animal is anywhere from 60 to 200 days (depending on what implant is being used). Re-implanting cattle when the previous implant is no longer effective is essential. Strategy for Implanting Cattle High potency implants should be used as the final implant prior to slaughtering ( days). Use low and moderate potency implants prior to the terminal implant. Estimate slaughter time and back calculate to determine when implanting should occur. Proper Implanting technique A Texas study estimated that 33.7% of cattle are improperly implanted. These cattle would not get the full benefit of the implant ultimately affecting feed efficiency. Ensure implants are administered properly. Nutrition and Implants Match the implant type with the ration being fed. Higher energy diets should be matched with high potency implants to improve feed efficiency. More conservative diets need low to moderate potency implants. Follow proper label directions when using implants.

8 Animal Factors: Many animal factors can affect feed efficiency. Body Condition of Cattle Body condition of beef cattle entering the feedlot can affect feed efficiency. Most reports indicate that cattle that are slightly under conditioned (or green cattle) will initially have compensatory growth on high-energy feeds. Typically, this compensatory growth will increase feed efficiency by 5 to 10% for up to the first 60 days when cattle first enter the feedlot. Cattle that are over conditioned will have increased maintenance energy requirements. Less energy is available for growth resulting in lower feed efficiency for fleshy cattle. Over Weight Cattle Feeding cattle beyond their ideal market weight significantly reduces feed efficiency. Heavy cattle deposit less lean gain and more fat. Lean gain in cattle is more efficient than fat gain. Maintenance requirements for energy are higher for heavy cattle. Effect on Performance of Holding a 1400 lb Steer Beyond Ideal Market Date Number of Days Beyond Ideal Market Date Live Weight (lb.) DMI, % of Body Weight or lower Average Daily Gain (lb). ~3.0 ~2.5 to 2.75 ~ Feed Efficiency Decline 5-8% 12-18% 18-25% OMAF Infosheet Feeding Cattle Beyond Optimum Market Weight and Finish Feed efficiency for cattle fed beyond their ideal market weight will be significantly poorer than lighter cattle. Feedlot producers must take this into consideration (along with over weight carcass discounts and selling price of cattle) if they are to keep animals longer than their desired finishing weights. There are many elements in the feedlot that affect feed efficiency. By managing the environmental conditions cattle are housed in, proper ration and bunk management, through the use of feed additives and implants and by managing animal factors cattle feed efficiency can be improved in feedlot operations.

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