When I look at our most successful feedlot operators they all have one thing in common. They rely on experts to assist them in helping to make their business successful. They rely on their herd health veterinarian for all things involving health such as what vaccine to use, what dewormer to use, should they revaccinate, should they use metaphylaxis, what implants should be used and when?

They utilize a nutritionist to help them formulate a balanced and cost-effective diet. Nutritionist Tom Peters, PhD, says that “More cattle get ruined in the first two weeks on feed than any other time in their life,” and I have never forgotten that. Too much starch or too little protein are two of the problems we see.

Too many backgrounding operations and feedlots are really just guessing at the ration the calves are fed. In October we analyzed the ration for a cow-calf producer that was backgrounding 175 calves and the protein requirement was only 57% of what they needed. We added an appropriate amount of wet distillers and actually reduced the cost of gain on these calves. The original ration had them gaining only 1.9 lb/day and our amended ration allowed them to express their genetics and they are gaining 2.8 lb/day. After a 60-day backgrounding period, this owner will have 9,450 more pounds to sell and he did so at a lower cost than his original ration. This will result in an additional $10,000–15,000 net profit for his 60 days of labor.

Feeding co-products
Co-product feeds like dried distillers grains (DDGS), corn gluten feed and soyhulls have virtually no starch, but they have easily digestible, fiber-based energy. The newly weaned calf has been used to eating milk and forage and by 6 months of age, the cow is not producing much milk. The rumen bacteria and protozoa that digest the forage are the same ones that digest these co-products so the transition is quite easy. I think we need to remember that we are feeding rumen “bugs” and they cannot tolerate extreme changes in their diet. To a rumen bug, DDGS and grass are very similar. Add starch and they are confused.

Another benefit of DDGS and corn gluten feed (not soyhulls) is that they are high in protein and the newly weaned calf needs a diet fairly high in protein. Most of the weight a newly weaned calf is gaining is muscle; and that’s protein. These co-products are ideal for starting calves on feed and can help provide the most cost-effective, balanced ration for your clients’ cattle.

I strongly encourage beef cattle veterinarians to develop a relationship with a beef nutritionist and also encourage you to improve your knowledge of beef nutrition via continuing education opportunities. Beef clients need more help with nutrition concerns and it is a win-win-win situation for beef producers, their cattle and veterinarians when this happens. 

W. Mark Hilton, DVM, Dipl. ABVP – Beef Cattle, is a clinical associate professor, Beef Production Medicine, at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine.