A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned
By: Terri Queck-Matzie
Feedlot margins are disappearing. In some cases, “profit” has become a thing of the past. To stay viable, feedyards are looking to save a buck anywhere they can.
And there are savings to be had. Sometimes a reasonable investment can yield substantial results.
“The first thing to do is check with your nutritionist,” says Ross Wilson, with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association. “They’re trained to not only provide you with the best nutrition program for your operation, but the most economical.”
Jesse Larios with Foster Feed Yard in California’s Imperial Valley has found it helps to use non-traditional feedstuffs. He utilizes local bakery waste and sugar beet pulp to add value to grain during these days of high feed costs.
It also helps to prevent feed waste. Feeding smaller amounts less frequently can encourage cattle to eat everything put before them. A consistent feeding schedule helps, as does adequate bunk space.
Improper feed storage can account for losses of 2-20 percent. For producers feeding hay, using a bale feeder can reduce wastage by about 10 percent vs. unrolling onto the ground, according to Dr. Chris Reinhardt, Extension Feedlot Specialist at Kansas State University. “We’ve all seen cows bedding down in hay,” says Reinhardt. “This will be worse if the ground is muddy and cows are desperate for a warm, dry, place to bed.”
Keeping pests away from cattle feed is crucial. University of Wisconsin Extension offers the following suggestions for keeping those birds and rodents at bay:
• Keep feed storage areas clean and avoid feed spills
• Trim weeds and tall grass around buildings and bunks to eliminate habitat for rodents
• Store grain in pest-proof facilities such as bins
• Minimize the rafters in which birds can perch
• Use feed starlings are unable to consume (greater than 1/2 inch in diameter)
• Reduce feed left in bunk through slick bunk management
• Reduce water level in waterers to six inches below the top
Good feed bunk management hinges on good record keeping. Tracking the amount consumed in relation to the amount delivered will help make better management decisions.
Larios says record keeping in all aspects of finishing cattle is key to efficiency. At Foster Feed Yard, each animal is tracked individually. Weights and average daily gain are tracked and animals are grouped accordingly. Superior performing animals are fed together, as are those with average performance. Cattle with inferior ADG are culled. “We don’t want to feed all cattle, just the right ones,” says Larios. The approach not only helps feedlot efficiency, but delivers a more homogeneous product to the packer.
“Cattle also socialize on a more consistent level,” he adds. “Big and small animals are not mixed, so there’s no bullying for food.” Social rank within the pen can influence feed intake. Smaller animals are intimidated by larger animals, especially when weight in the group varies by more than 125 pounds, according to J.W.
Schroeder with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.
The individual approach also helps with marketing. Superior animals are geared toward premium programs, with growth and health records readily available. Larios believes in utilizing available technology, and communicates with customers through social media and cloud-based data sharing.
Lameness in feedlot cattle can reduce cattle performance. Double D Family Mat Co. makes mats from used tires than can reduce slippage on concrete floors by as much as 60-70 percent. The mats are designed for squeeze chutes, walkways and scales, and can be used indoors or outside. Doug Parham, assistant manager of Finney County Feedyard Inc., Garden City, Kansas, says cattle mats have “pretty much eliminated” problems with cattle falling while coming out of a chute. The mats are long lasting and the feedyard is quick to replace them when they do wear out.
The company states that using non-slip mats not only reduces slipping, but also reduces the chance of hoof damage.
Dr. Dan Thomson, DVM, PhD, Kansas State University, says now is the time to consider the use of shades in the feedlot to improve performance. In a recent Bovine Veterinarian Magazine article he says: “Every time we talk about animal welfare we seem to think that it is different than talking about management for improved performance of cattle. They are one in the same. People don’t understand that these kinds of things that improve welfare also make money for the producers. If it costs $18/head to put in shades, it doesn’t take long to have it equalize and pay out.”
Shades do more than provide protection during a heat stress event. Research on feedlot shades by Mitloehner, Galyean and McGlone in the Journal of Animal Science (2002) showed:
• Increased dry matter intake (21.56 vs. 20.94 lb./d)
• Increased average daily gain (3.82 vs. 3.61 lb/d)
• Increased carcasses grading Choice (55.8 vs. 36.2%)
• Decreased dark cutters by 50%
Using the Right Tools
Efficient equipment can help. CAT has created a line of loaders that focus on operational efficiency by idling at lower RPM and optional biodegradable oil use. Easier, do-it-yourself machine maintenance helps reduce downtime and reversible fans blow debris off the cooling grill, so operators don’t have to stop to clean them.
An Iowa State University Energy Project study is assessing fuel usage, as well as studying various ag energy issues like lighting and ventilation techniques to identify the most economical tools and methods.
“Our forefathers built this industry by thinking outside the box,” says Larios. “And we have to do the same. We have to be creative in order to maximize output and produce more pounds of beef in an economical manner.”