Nutritionist Corner: Cow-calf confinement considerationsI’m Dave McClellan, a beef cattle consultant from Fremont, Neb., and this is my first attempt at what is positioned to be a quarterly article for Bovine Veterinarian. My clientele is largely made up of what I call feeder-farmers and cow-calf operators north of I-70 between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains. I also do a pair of lots for Pineland Natural Meats in upstate New York and extreme northern Maine. I’ve developed a real taste for fresh Maine lobster over the past eight years.

My charge is to write on whatever beef-related topic I’d like that might be of interest to the veterinarian community involved in beef production. Those of you that know me will understand that being politically correct will be almost impossible for me, but since it’s an opinion piece, recognize that I most often have one.

The 1st Annual Dr. Kenneth and Caroline McDonald Eng Foundation Cow-Calf Symposium was held in Lincoln, Neb., Sept. 12-13. As many of you know, Kenneth established a publically funded foundation to support research and education in the beef industry, following the untimely death of his wife Caroline. In the first funding cycle the McDonald Eng Foundation gave significant grants to the University of Nebraska, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University and Wayne State University in Nebraska, with a request that the first three named look at the concept of semi-confined cow-calf production. The yearly grants are renewable year-to-year or project-to-project, based on evaluation by the McDonald Eng Foundation.

Dr. Eng led off the proceedings for nearly 200 attendees by highlighting industry-altering trends in the first 12 years of the new millennium: record land prices, record feedstuff prices (grains, forages, byproducts), record (albeit largely unprofitable) fat cattle prices, record feeder prices, massive cow liquidation, worse drought since the Dust Bowl Era, huge transfer of wealth within the industry and continued excess feedlot capacity. All of these factors led Kenneth and Caroline to utilize some of their clients’ excess capacity to take a look at cows and calves in semi-confinement. That experience became the seed to generate this symposium. We miss Caroline but applaud Ken for the avenue he’s selected to honor her memory.

The opening session was led by UNL with Drs. Karla Jenkins, Rick Rasby, David Smith (now of Mississippi State University) and Terry Klopfenstein reporting on their research. The groups’ work focused on using available crop residue and local byproducts to limit-feed cows and cow-calf pairs in confinement. Further refinement of the degree of limit-feeding, nutrient requirements of the cow and the suckling calf were examined. They also looked at management, economic and health considerations of early-weaned (86.6 days) and normal-weaned (205.6 days) calves and their impact on the cow. The key takeaways are:

• No real calf-health issues.

• Cow maintenance requirement is lower than expected when exercise is limited.

• No breed-back issues.

• Early weaning requires just as much feed for the pair when added together as does conventional weaning.

• Being confined because of drought, lack of pasture or other reason is a viable alternative to herd reduction.

Drs. Jason Sawyer and Gordon Carstens of Texas A&M University examined the impact of improved energetic efficiency when costs are applied to legitimize the semi-confined production system and whether relative feed intake is a useful tool in a cow system. The idea of “calories as currency” provokes interesting thoughts and further discussion. Both presenters brought home the mandate that a thorough economic assessment be a first step in whether or not semi-confined fits your situation and that a systems approach is a planning process that is applying concepts or ideas to your particular set of circumstances, not a plug-and-play Lego approach. We were introduced to “intensification management” as a way to consolidate all variations of semi-confinement.

Nutritionist Corner: Cow-calf confinement considerationsOklahoma State University was represented by Dr. David Lallman and an impressive set of grad students. OSU’s research centered on evaluating four designs of hay feeders. Common sense appears to trump ease of filling or moving as the economics favor the least handy, most expensive feeder tested. Total waste was lowest in modified cone feeders, highest in conventional open-bottom steel ring feeders and polyethylene-pipe ring feeders, and intermediate in sheeted-bottom steel-ring feeders.


They also reviewed feeding an ionophore (monensin) as a nutrient-sparing technology. They compared supplementing cotton meal pellets, at 36 percent crude protein, with or without 200 mg per head of monensin. They observed less hay waste in the monensin treatment groups. Even though their conclusions mirrored prior research, the data is aged and bears updating.

My take homes from the two days are multiple:

1. We are a differential industry that is more adept at looking at specific segments rather than the whole system.
2. The systems approach is a think, plan, implement, evaluate way of answering questions. The approach fits all but a single solution does not.
3. Technology is a critical puzzle piece if agriculture is going to feed an exploding population.
4. We have to open our minds and examine available feedstuffs that fit our geography.
5. When possible the farmer/stockman must combine his farmer hat and his stockman hat to use a systems approach that will give reliable feedback.
6. Read, listen and ask as you consider possible courses of action.
7. Improve your ability to relate “beef’s story” to your urban brethren.
8. I would suggest we all obtain and read No More Food Fights by Michele Payn-Knoper to improve our story-telling ability.

Questions or comments are welcome. E-mail me at or call 402-720-2247.