|Some feedlots are using grass traps to help chronic cattle do better.|
Are Grass Traps An Economic Option?
Taking a look at how people in other geographic areas manage the same thing can be eye-opening. Scott MacGregor, DVM, MS, consults with feedlots in South Africa and has brought some new ideas back to his clients. One of them is using grass traps on which to place high-risk/chronic cattle.
The feedlot operations in South Africa tend to be on huge farms and vertically integrated with packing houses. “I noticed they would take animals that looked high-risk at about 450 lbs., bring them into the feedyard from multiple origins, process them, and put them on what they call ‘camps,’ which are 20-acre grass pastures with a bunkline board,” explains MacGregor. For three weeks they’ll be on the grass plus a milled ration and appraised on a daily basis similar to a pen rider’s observations, then put into a large yard. So for the difficult period, they’re on grass.
Then, they go through a typical therapy regimen set up with three rotations. If the animal is returned after the third treatment, it goes back to a camp. The animals have well over 1,000 sq. ft. each, and they are left there for 45 days. At that point, they’re restarted.
MacGregor has been trying this method with his U.S. clients. “I’ve become interested in the theory that grass might stimulate the immune system,” he says. “Whether it is all of the fatty acids or whatever through the rumen, or lower stress because of the forage, I don’t know, but something allows a bloom to take place if you allow them to be there for 45 days.”
Back in the United States, MacGregor went into three feedyards where they allocated traps. Though they had no grass, they had 2,000-plus square-feet, a windbreak, a place to lie down, free choice mineral, milled ration and a round-bale feeder. “We used the same 45 days, and we lost fewer than you’d think on that system,” he says. “When they come off the 45 days, they have the option to either realize the animal, which was the minority, or restart them together in small pens of 25 to 50.”
Average daily gains were higher than expected at close to 2.5 lbs. Costs-of-gain were less than a dollar, and conversion rates were better than expected. “Instead of 10+ they came back somewhere between eight and nine.” Out-weights were lower at 1,150 lbs. for a steer instead of 1,350. Deads past the three-treatment period and the 45 days were fewer than 3%, though MacGregor expected closer to 5-10%. Condemns were also fewer at 2%, though it was expected they might be 20%.
“Economically, that system made better sense than not having a plan and letting them die in small convalescent pens,” state MacGregor. “In the morning when you see them lying down in these camps as chronics, there’s usually 100 feet between them. They’re not in bunches because they have all the space to spread themselves apart naturally, and maybe that’s all there is to it. We’ve monitored our numbers since 2002, and realizers have gone down steadily and linearly since that period, and the crews are convinced it’s because of the traps.”