Why Reputation Cattle Matter in the Feedlot

By : Terri Queck-Matzie

Success in the feedyard starts with good cattle; cattle that have been the benefactor of sound nutrition since before they were born, or even conceived.

In a recently released video Dr. Francis Fluharty, Head of the Department of Animal and Dairy Science at the University of Georgia, addresses the advantages of buying reputation cattle for your feeding operation, considering failure to do so one of the preventable mistakes of feedlot management.

“You get what you pay for,” says Fluharty. “Reputation cattle are important to the cattle industry. When you are a feeder, you’re trying toget healthy cattle in, and that goes back to before the calf was born.”

Approximately 75 percent of calf fetus growth occurs during the last two months. That has led many to believe cow nutrition only affects calf growth during the last trimester.

But the placenta, the regulator of fetal calf growth, develops during the first trimester, as do major organs. If nutrients are restricted during any given organ’s window of development, it can have consequences. A paper released by North Carolina State Extension, cites a University of Wyoming study which showed lung and trachea weights of steers born to heifers that were provided only 55 percent of their nutrient requirements were significantly less than steers born to heifers fed 100 percent of their nutrient requirements.

In a commercial feedlot, where pathogens such as BVD are a threat to newly comingled calves, smaller lungs can create additional risk.

By mid-gestation, when a calf’s muscle development begins, lack of nutrition can lead to a decrease in muscle fiber formation, hampering further muscle development in the last trimester. University of Wyoming research comparing cows grazed at 120-150 days of gestation on low-quality pastures with 6 percent crude protein and cows grazed on improved pastures with 11 percent crude protein reported those grazed on improved pastures produced calves that were heavier at weaning and harvesting, and had greater meat tenderness at slaughter, according to the Warner-Bratzler shear force test.

Furthermore, the impact of fetal nutrition is perhaps most obvious in the final trimester, when muscle and adipose tissue experience their heaviest development. If adipocyte populations (cells responsible for accumulating fatty acids and generating intramuscular fat) are compromised by inadequate cow nutrition, it can produce offspring carcasses with lower marbling scores.

Maintaining adequate nutrition for gestating calves depends on cow condition during, and before, pregnancy. And that requires more than pasture management. “If I am buying cattle for myself, I want to know that cowherd that I’m buying those calves from has their cows in a body score condition of about 5 during midand late-gestation,” says Fluharty. “I want to know that they have a good mineral program, because minerals like copper and zinc and manganese – they’re what’s called co-factors in energy metabolism in the liver. If that cow is going to nourish that fetus appropriately, she has to have good nutrition and often that means good mineral nutrition.”

University of Nebraska research on protein supplementation during late-gestation showed male calves born to  supplemented cows had heavier carcasses than those without, and in one study, male offspring of the supplemented cows produced a greater percentage of carcasses grading Choice, and greater marbling scores, than the offspring of cows without protein supplementation.

To provide adequate mineral supplementation, Fluharty says the supplement needs to be something cattle will consume and in a form that is easily absorbable by the cow. “Trace mineral block is not a  mineral program,” says Fluharty. He adds mineral should be in sulfates or carbonate form, not oxide.

Not only is poor cow body condition going to have an affect on calf growth and development in utero, a cow in poor condition or losing weight through the last trimester will have low quality colostrum. According to Fluharty, calves that don’t get a good quality colostrum are 5-9 times more likely to die prior to weaning and 5 times more likely to die of sudden death syndrome in
the feedlot.

“We make a huge mistake when we buy calves from places that don’t have a good mineral program or don’t take good care of their cows from a body condition standpoint,” says Fluharty. “Because by the time we get them after weaning, they’re genetics may be fine. That producer may have purchased a really good bull, but if they didn’t take care of the cows from a nutrition standpoint and a body condition standpoint, their offspring aren’t going to have the potential to grow in the feedlot the same way they would have if the cow had been maintained properly.”

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