Feedlot Profitability Tips

By GPLC Consultants

All feedlot managers know that when it comes to feeding cattle there are certain factors that cannot be controlled. Weather, cattle prices and feed prices are never a certainty. So, what are some things that can be done that directly impact feedlot profitability? The consultants at Great Plains Livestock Consulting have composed a list of their top feedlot profitability tips.


-Dr. Ki Fanning

You lose 28% of your performance when mud is hock deep. Cattle need to be kept in pens allowing for dry hides whether that is in a building or in an open yard. In an open yard, pens should be shaped so that moisture will flow out the back of the pen. Box scrape regularly so the pen surface is smooth and will shed water efficiently. Snow should be removed from the surface as soon as possible to maintain a dry surface. In a bedded building, your gauge on the amount of bedding to use and when to clean out the bedding is your cattle’s hide. Frequency of bedding will change according to outside humidity and temperature (increased water intake in heat), size of the cattle and roughage level of the ration. Remember: water intake is directly correlated with feed intake so we want to maximize both to maximize performance and a windbreak in the summertime will reduce performance 0.26 lb/head/day. What does not affect the amount of bedding used is the wetness of the ration or the type of supplement fed.


-Dr. Dan Larson

The collection and evaluation of data is a two-step process. There are many excellent options for collecting feedlot data including feeding, animal health and marketing. Collecting these data are however only half the equation. After you have the data, you must evaluate and be willing to make changes, even if those changes are painful. This is the only way to make meaningful and progressive changes.


-Luke Miller, M.S.

Take advantage of technologies that offer a consistent return on investment. Today’s profit margins are extremely slim. The added efficiencies that implants, ionophores, beta agonists, etc. offer could easily be the difference between staying in the black or going into the red. If cattle are being marketed through an All-Natural program, be sure the premiums outweigh the loss in performance that will be associated with it.


-Dr. Jason Warner

Manage shrink on feed ingredients. Shrink is one of those underlying costs to an operation that is often overlooked and forgotten about since it is not a direct cash expense, but one that adds up quickly. Shrink needs to be measured (tons in vs. tons out) and managed for all operations and feeds, regardless if you custom feed someone else’s cattle or feed your own cattle. Knowing what amount of shrink can have a significant impact on an operation’s bottom line and helps prevent under or over-buying commodities.


-Dr. Karl Harborth

Pay attention to receiving cattle management. Morbidity can quickly take the profits out of a pen of cattle. The longer a calf takes to eat or drink after arrival the greater the probability they are to get sick. Getting calves to consume a nutrient dense starter ration and water as fast as you can after arrival will give calves the best chance of starting in the right direction. In addition to providing a high-quality starter ration, work with your veterinarian to have the proper vaccination program and disease management plan in place to handle any problems you may encounter based on the season and the type of cattle you are feeding.


-Chris Muegge, M.S.

Monitor proper mixer maintenance and feedstuff inclusion. We work very hard to harvest, store, and purchase quality feedstuffs. If our mixer is not doing an adequate job or we are mixing feedstuffs out of order, we will end up delivering a different ration throughout the bunk. Work with your nutritionist to ensure ingredients are mixed correctly and sample total mixed rations routinely.


-Adam Schroeder, M.S.

Fine tune proper bunk management. Delivering just the right amount of the correct ration at a consistent time each day can pay big dividends through improved feed conversion. Goals should be that feeding time varies no more than 15 minutes from day to day, and bunks should be slick to crumbles a few hours before feeding time each day.


-Dr. Matt Luebbe

Starting cattle on feed requires attention to detail before the animals are received at the feedyard. Having the history of the cattle from the source is ideal to optimize the process but many times the source is unknown. When feeding high-risk calves additional thought needs to go into the receiving program. The first priority is to get the animals to consume feed and water. Many calves are not familiar with wet by-products or fermented feeds, providing long-stem hay may be required for the first few days to ensure they are familiar with the feed and locate the bunk.


-Robert Jones, M.S.

Sound economical decisions are only made on what we can measure, therefore it is crucial that a feedyard keep complete and accurate records. When facing hard economic times and narrow profit margins a feedlot must step back and evaluate the whole operation and find where the inefficiencies lie. Cattle intakes, feed purchases, feed waste, health costs, etc. all play into the cost of gain and bottom line the breakeven for cattle in the feedlot. One factor that has the potential to bring in most of the profit for a feedlot comes from timely and wisely marketing cattle (buying/selling); knowing an accurate cost of gain and breakeven allows a feedlot to make sound decisions when doing so.


-Jordan Burhoop, M.S

Be open to new ideas and try not to get stuck in the rut of doing a task a certain way just because that is how it has always been done in the past. Reasons for making a certain decision may no longer be relevant to the operation. New products coming to market and research being published force a producer to evaluate their current practices to ensure profit is being maximized.


-Dr. Jeremy Martin

Feeding cattle comes down to process management. There are numerous processes in the feedyard, such as mixing feed, putting feed in the bunk, pen maintenance and processing calves. In order to give cattle the consistency they crave, you need to identify those key processes and develop standard operating procedures to ensure your crew is producing repeatable results.

For more information on this or any nutrition-related topic, contact Great Plains Livestock Consulting at www.gplc-inc.com.

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