25 feeder calf mistakes to avoidThis fall when calves will be entering the feedlot, the feedlot team including the veterinarian, nutritionist, manager, pen riders and feeders will have the opportunity to all work together to get these calves off to a good start.

Beef cattle nutritionists Mike Hubbert, PhD, and Jennifer Schutz, PhD from New Mexico State University’s Clayton Livestock Research Center, says it’s important to “feed for health” with these new calves. “I define feeding for health as: the individual animal is consuming the proper nutrients at the proper units/levels for the promotion of healthy, cost efficient growth,” Hubbert explains.

“What is the biggest deterrent to our success in doing that?” Hubbert asks. “The biggest deterrent depends on the cattle buyer, the facilities we work with, the ingredients from the milling/mixing/moisture levels, the weather we have to deal with, the animal health crews, the feeding crews, feedyard management, the veterinarian and the nutritionist. We have to work together as a team to achieve our goal. Many times that is not done as well as it needs to be done.”

Hubbert says what’s needed is the creation of a “happy zone” that revolves around comfort for the animal, the veterinarian and the nutritionist, based on good animal husbandry. “The better we make this comfort zone and animal husbandry between us, the greater chance for success,” he says. “We can’t have the animal health side working against us and we can’t have the nutritionist working against us. We have to work together.”

25 mistakes
Hubbert and Schutz outline 25 common mistakes and problems that they see as nutritionists that are made with newly arrived calves at feedlots.

Feeding management:

1. Inconsistent feeding times. Cattle should be fed within 15 minutes of when they were fed the prior day, and be fed within 0.2 lb from what was called.

2. Bunks too high for calves. Hubbert says bunks are higher in today’s feedlots because larger calves have been the norm. However, with today’s prices, a lot of smaller calves are coming into the feedyards and they can’t reach into the bunks very well.

3. Cattle standing around. Hubbert says standing costs 15% more in maintenance than lying down. If cattle are standing around waiting on late feed trucks, they are losing energy.

4. Not recording pulls for the feeder. Often pen riders will wait until the feed truck goes by to identify calves that don’t go to the bunk. The mistake is made when after pulling those cattle the feeder is not informed, so at the next feeding the pen will be overfed.

Nutrition:

5. Ration changes to multiple rations. If a feedyard has, for example, four rations that are fed twice a day, making ration changes to these multiple rations becomes very complicated and difficult to be done effectively.

6. Changing type and amount of ration concurrently. Moving up the amount of ration and changing ration at the same time can mess with intakes. Hubbert says you should transition from ration 1 to 2 but keep it at the same level of intake during transition to avoid decreased intakes

7. Not watching moisture levels in diets. Hubbert says moisture levels in different ingredients such as high-moisture corn and wet distiller’s grains can widely vary and that can change energy density. Silage moisture levels can change roughage content. Also watch things like pre-ground hay that is ground so much all the fiber is gone — it becomes not a roughage but a bloat-promoting, highly soluble material.

8. Feeding calves unfamiliar diets. For example, feeding silage to calves that have never seen silage before can reduce or delay intakes. Remember, we are feeding the cattle not the cement feedbunk, watch cattle behavior!

9. Blaming acidosis on everything. Hubbert says it’s common to blame acidosis for dead cattle based on the pH of the rumen after death, which is around 4.8, however, he says, that pH is most often caused by fermentation which continues after death, not acidosis, so be careful in your diagnosis.

10. Not balancing distiller’s grains correctly. Distiller’s grains need to be balanced with the right kind of fiber, Hubbert says. For example, if you combine it with alfalfa, you’ll most likely create diarrhea. Also, make sure fiber sources are not cut in too large of pieces or cattle will sort the feed.

11. Not paying attention to ingredient processing. For example, Hubbert says, ground wheat digests very rapidly and can cause metabolic upsets as acidosis, so using cracked corn or a “heavy” steam-flaked wheat or corn is probably the most easily digestible diet. Steam-flaking corn to an industry average 28 lb/bu flake, will increase the starch availability of the corn kernel which will improve performance without excessively high rates of fermentation. Hubbert says corn by-products such as corn gluten feed or Sweet Bran (Cargill) are great to substitute for grain in starting diets as they are high energy without the rapidly digestible starch component.

12. Feeding the wrong forages to new calves. Hubbert notes that alfalfa in starting diets can increase lipopolysaccharides and endotoxins, and Sudan hay can have nitrates. Grass hay is great, he says, and hulls have great palatability. Silage can be used depending on the cattle and if they are familiar with it.

13. Feeding ingredients free-choice. When possible, Hubbert recommends that ingredients are mixed instead of free-choice to avoid sorting.

14. Not considering amino acid profiles. Amino acid profiles, especially on corn by-products, can be altered during fermentation. Hubbert recommends using less than 1% of urea in incoming diets because urea adaptation by rumen microorganisms takes around 12–14 days.

15. Not analyzing fat source. Hubbert says the nutritional value of fat sources vary quite a bit. Vegetable fat can be consistent and have a high free fatty acid; and yellow grease is the most variable in free fatty acids, which can kill cattle if not managed properly.

16. Not supplying minerals. Calcium and phosphorous are important in receiving diets. Hubbert assumes a trace mineral deficiency and includes them at 150%. He also sticks with Vitamin E
levels at about 400 IUs.

Stress:

17. Receiving pens in high-stress location. Having receiving pens next to shipping pens, the mill, etc. can cause newly arrived cattle to get no rest, and increases stress which can decrease intake.

18. Mixing wild cattle with bunk-broke cattle. Wild cattle that are not used to feed bunks won’t mix with other cattle and get to the bunk and eat. Hubbert says they should be sorted off or handled differently, including shortening the pen, placing extra feed troughs in the pen, feeding at night to lower aggravation, etc.

19. Not resting new calves. Hubbert says incoming calves need some rest after transit, and that many feedlots don’t take into consideration the total transit time the calves have gone through, not just the last transit to the feedlot.

20. Castrated calves with non-castrated calves. Putting newly castrated calves with non-castrated calves can cause problems, as for the first few days the newly castrated calves don’t want to get bumped around, and will be more hesitant to crowd up to the bunk. Hubbert says if there are enough of them, separate them.

21. Small and large calves together. Putting 400-lb calves and 700-lb calves in pens together can result in the larger calves dominating the bunk. Hubbert says the smaller calves won’t eat for a few days, then they will make a break for it and gorge themselves.

Hospitals:

22. Insufficient water trough space in the hospital. Hubbert says work in 1999 showed that sick cattle like to hang out by waterers, “but we still don’t give them more than the 2–4 inches as we do in the home pen,” he says. Competition with other hospital pen cattle can reduce water intake.

23. Overfeeding/underfeeding hospital cattle. It’s important to have a fairly accurate headcount of hospital pen cattle so that the correct amount of feed can be fed to avoid creating acidosis in those most sensitive to it.

24. Not cleaning the hospital pen and bunk. Regular pens get slick bunks multiple times a day, but hospital pen bunks may only get cleaned out once a week. Unappetizing rations that sit around in the hospital bunk can also be at risk for molds, especially with high-moisture feeds.

25. No salt or mineral blocks in the hospital pens. Sick calves need vitamins and minerals to help with immune function and health.