Winter management: A look at bedding

Cold spells persist throughout many regions of the country, and February and March are known to blow in some winter storms. There are several aspects of feedyard management that can improve cattle performance in the winter, including wind protection, snow and ice removal, feed intake and others. One management addition for winter feeding can make a big impact in gain, conversion and quality is bedding feedlot cattle in the winter.

Research from North Dakota State University’s Extension Service found the value of bedding to cattle performance and comfort outweigh the cost of the bedding. Trials at the NCSU Carrington Research Extension Center with finishing cattle showed an increase in daily gain of .86 lb when cattle were bedded with modest amounts of straw when compared to cattle with no bedding. Carcass traits and the percent choice were markedly improved in the bedded cattle. In fact, bedding increased the net return in the study by more than $80 per head after accounting for costs of bedding.

In the study, bedding was provided at 3.2 pounds per head, per day.

Researchers theorized that performance was affected because cattle without bedding have less insulation and carry more mud, which reduced their performance in the feedyard.

Smaller pens or smaller feedyards would likely see similar returns with bedding, however large feedyard with large pens may have to reduce the amount of bedding per head simply due to the economics of scale.

Research showed bedding also improved gains in muddy and wet conditions. Research from 2011 showed using a modest amount of bedding at one pound per head per day for every inch of mud in the pen showed a benefit. When equated to bedding with a large round bale, a pen with four inches of mud with 100 head would require one 800-pound bale of bedding every other day.

Bedding can be spread with a loader and grapple fork, bale shredder or a bale cannon which shoots bedding from the feed alley. Adding bedding to the pen is often better after the cattle have been fed to reduce consumption of the bedding. NDSU research showed bedding with corn stover slightly reduced feedyard performance because cattle consumed a portion of the bedding which reduced the energy density of their intended diet, which reduced gains.    ©

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