Improving feed utilization, efficiency in the feedlot
By Jennifer Carrico
All beef producers are trying to find a way improve efficiency at a time of high input costs. In feedlots, improving feed utilization is important.
Dan Loy, director of the Iowa Beef Center, discussed the strategies that can be used to make these improvements, during a session at the Iowa Cattlemen's Convention in Altoona recently.
"There are so many efficiency factors that can be used in feedlots--feed additives, implants, beta-agonists, ionophores, etc. And paying attention to grain processing practices, health management, timely marketing and proper handling," he said. "All of these things factor in to help improve feed utilization."
Loy said there is a lot of value in having a more efficient feedlot, especially when feed costs are high.
He suggested looking at all the options available before making drastic changes in management. While some strategies might make an animal gain faster, they may also cause a reduction in meat quality.
"There really are so many factors to look at when feeding cattle. If you can find good deals on feed, that is good, but also make sure it is good quality," he said. "Sometimes cheap feed can cause efficiency to suffer."
The same is true when using higher cost feedstuffs. Loy said the incentives need to also change for the positive.
Feed management is a key factor in how cattle will gain and therefore affects efficiency.
Protecting feedstuffs from outside conditions can help improve feed quality and lead to better feed efficiency. Uncovered piles of silage, hay or other feedstuffs will have the most shrink or feed loss. A commodity shed helps with improvement of feed loss, and a bulk bin shows the least amount of feed loss.
"It's important to have good storage of your feedstuffs to minimize shrink," he said.
Loy said producers must remember the 3 Ms when storing feedstuffs--measure, monitor and manage. Measure the feed when it's put into storage and when it's fed by weighing it. That will tell you how much loss there is to shrink. Monitor feedstuffs to be sure there isn't a problem with spoilage. Manage feedstuffs for proper storage and if a problem occurs to know how to solve it.
Proper silo management can help prevent extreme losses. Silage should be put into a silo at 60 to 70 percent moisture, high moisture corn should be 26 to 32 percent moisture and hay crop silage should be 60 to 65 percent moisture. Loy stressed to pack 6 to 10 inches of silage at a time when storing in a bunker silo. That allows for proper packing and a good fermenting process with less loss.
When feeding out of a bunker silo, he suggested feeding out 6 to 12 inches per day using a good feed-out technique, feeding from the top down in order to keep the best possible feed quality.
"As we continue to see changes in the beef industry, we don't seem to see the continual changes in feed efficiency that we saw in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Improvements in genetics have helped us maintain good feed efficiency. Now we want even better because of higher input costs," he said.
In the feedlots, management practices have become even more important. Feeder cattle are being identified for the genetic potential to be more efficient. Optimum nutrition and management programs are used to identify cattle that are more or less efficient.
"Soon, we will also be using more genetic testing to identify genetics that are more efficient all the way from the farm or ranch to the feedlot," he concluded.