Impact of reduced herd size, further affected by the drought in southern states, the possibility of herd expansion, and attractive fed cattle prices are putting pressure on feeder calf supply.
For a feedyard operator, costs of purchasing a calf or yearling to place in the feedlot in late 2011 have increased over 50 percent since 2010. Feeder cattle futures for the March 2012 contract indicate at least lateral or greater price trends. This means that, relative to 2010, purchasing costs for feeder cattle will have increased from $75 to $150/head.
The impact of this value on breakeven fed cattle prices using an average increase in feeder cattle cost of $100/head is $7.70/cwt.
During the early part of this year, fed cattle prices increased $18/cwt over fed cattle prices paid in 2010. However, corn prices increased 150 percent since the 2010 crop was harvested. Therefore, as fed cattle prices may have compensated some for higher feeder prices, profit potential was diminished by increasing corn prices. This means that additional planning on receiving nutrition and health is necessary to keep newly received cattle alive and eating.
Components of receiving nutrition include: access to and adequate supply of good quality forage and water; careful evaluation of ration ingredients to ensure palatability; mixing success and diet integrity preservation; and careful observation of cattle behavior and bunk scores to manage intake.
Additionally, advanced planning for weather events such as cold or precipitation events complements a good nutrition program. Evaluating results of previous year health programs with the attending veterinarian is a must to formulate a health program for the upcoming feeding season.
The challenge in today’s economic environment is that inclusion of corn or other co-products is a necessity. This translates to greater consideration for inclusion of distillers grains, corn gluten feed, corn syrup, soy hulls, soy glycerin, beet pulp, screenings and alternative grain sources.
Additionally, where weather events did not prevent corn grain harvest, inclusion of corn silage or earlage may be limited. Therefore, relying on grass or grass – legume hay combinations with co-products will likely dominate diet formulations this fall and winter.
This is not necessarily a bad scenario. Grass or grass – legume hay, free of mold, and combined with corn gluten feed or soy hulls is an appropriate receiving diet strategy.
Because of differentials in particle size between these two ingredients, grinding hay to an average chop length of 3 inches may be needed to ensure proper mixing and diet integrity. Inclusion of even small amounts of fermented feeds such as balage, corn silage or earlage to receiving diets that contain hay will help maintain diet integrity.
A question asked regularly is whether receiving diets should contain distillers grains in either dry or wet forms. Although several nutritionists prefer to not have distillers grains in the receiving diet, economics may dictate its inclusion.
As a feed for receiving cattle, distillers grains contributes to palatability and greater intake, but because of its potential to reduce rumen pH, its inclusion on the first receiving diet should be limited to 10 percent of dry matter or less.
Corn syrup is another co-product that must receive some consideration for inclusion in receiving diets. Corn syrup has many of the same characteristics as wet and modified distillers grains: higher moisture, fat, and protein content than corn grain, and is often an excellent value on a unit-of-energy basis.
However, many of the issues of concern with distillers grains for a starter feed are also present with syrup. In particular, the nutrient content of corn syrup may be quite variable, especially the sulfur content. Therefore, a similar approach as with distillers grains (less than 10 percent of dry matter inclusion) is advised for corn syrup inclusion in receiving diets.
Soy glycerin is a product that will likely gain use this feeding year. Research results from finishing studies where soy glycerin was included at up to 12 percent diet dry matter demonstrate an intake moderation effect with little or no negative effect on gain.
Inclusion of soy glycerin in the receiving diet should be considered as a way to reduce starch loads and to enhance diet condition (in dry diets) while maintaining diet costs manageable. Therefore, soy glycerin inclusion in the receiving diet may be limited to less than 5 percent of the diet dry matter.
Intake management of receiving calves is truly a combination of cattle behavior and bunk observations. On the well-known bunk scores of 0 to 4 from SDSU, a score of zero may have several cattle implications that must be evaluated carefully. Did cattle achieve a zero score at midnight, 3:00 am or just prior to the reading? Careful observation of cattle behavior at the time of reading will permit further interpretation of bunk scores.
For example, a bunk score of zero with cattle actively engaged in what the yard crew is doing to prepare feed with most, if not all, cattle standing at the bunk would indicate that cattle are extremely hungry. In contrast, a bunk score of zero with cattle laying around and chewing their cud while the crew is mixing feed would indicate that cattle are satisfied.
The response by the feedyard manager to each of these scenarios has to be different. In the former, depending on the nutritionist’s plan for stepping to a new diet or their current dry matter intake, one may increase the mixed diet offering up to the maximum permitted by the intake program, but consideration should be given to offering 1 or 2 lb hay to reduce aggressiveness at the bunk, even before delivering the mixed diet.
In the latter scenario, delaying increases in the feed offering or even reducing feed offering may be necessary to catch up to the cattle.
Perhaps the most important advice for receiving cattle is to allow them to acclimate to their environment before beginning any step-up feeding or health program. Upon arrival to the feedlot, cattle should have unlimited access to fresh, clean water and a palatable roughage source such as a grass or grass-legume mix hay.
Allowing at least an overnight acclimation before processing is recommended. This will allow cattle to acclimate to their surroundings, find the feed bunk and water fountain, and adjust to new pens and/or pen mates. This will also result in reduced cattle stress at processing, which should improve the efficacy of any receiving health vaccinations.
Because health receiving programs will vary depending on cattle type, source, facility type and history, weather, and marketing programs, it is best to work closely with an experienced feedlot veterinarian to design a receiving health program to best fit the needs of each specific group of cattle.
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