The COVID-19 pandemic has affected virtually every entity in the world, and the cattle industry is not immune. My comments will be focused on problems and issues the feedlots are dealing with relating to market-ready cattle still in the pen three to five weeks past their normal harvest window. I don’t wish to ignore the cow/calf or stocker/grow yard operator, or infer they don’t have issues also, but I’ve chosen to stick to what I know best.
Issues to be aware of and plan for are acidosis, bloat, founder, foot rot, hairy heel wart, cardiac arrest, sudden death and a recurrence of respiratory issues. In addition to this list, because we’re headed into summer, is heat stress. Cattle that are overly finished with some mobility issues will not respond positively to the first string of 90°F days. The death loss and economic losses could be staggering. So what do we do?
First things first, how do we feed them? There have been lengthy discussions of maintenance rations, limit feeding and just staying the course. Maintenance diets will be lower in energy and are designed to restrict or eliminate additional gain. By necessity, they would be high-roughage diets. Large sections of the industry have become so ingrained to alternative roughages (corn stalks, cobs, bean stubble, straw, etc.) due to high levels of ethanol byproduct use (that have been greatly reduced or are unavailable) that sources of roughages that will not be refused or sorted are major problems.
Most of today’s managers, bunk readers and feeders have never had to manage a program without byproducts. Plus, many have never formulated diets without the safety net that distillers grains provide. Problem? Sure could be.
Limit feeding the current ration? If that’s your plan you need at least 2' if not 3' of bunk space per animal, or you will have starve-outs and injuries due to inadequate bunk space. Spread them out if space is available. That makes this solution unworkable for some, as inventories are backing up and space is a premium in some lots.
Stay the course? The animal has already reached a realistic physiological end point, and most of what it will now gain will be fat. Fat production is not as efficient as muscle and will negatively affect average daily gain (ADG), fecal grab (FG) and cost of gain.
None of these appear to be viable options, but do a cost analysis first. Regardless of which strategy you decide on, make multiple feedings your practice. In the option of high roughage/low energy, several small meals will slow the sorting. With limit feeding it will help with the crowding and reduce competition. If staying the course, it should allow you to decrease intakes by retraining cattle to eat smaller meals, shrinking their rumens. Multiple feedings means four or more — not two.
Shifting gears, I want to take some space to pay homage to my friend, colleague, mentor and confidant Dr. Kenneth Eng. Ken was all of these things to many of us who are practicing feedlot nutritionists. He passed away on Feb. 28 at his Mississippi ranch just two days before his 83rd birthday. Ken was one of the original 10 to 12 independent consulting nutritionists who paved the way and made opportunities available to me and my peers to follow suit. He was open, honest and always willing to discuss issues, answer questions or share information. Ken called them as he saw them and could get in your face, but I never heard of or saw him hold a grudge. If he didn’t like you, he didn’t talk about you; he just didn’t seek you out. He and I had several heated discussions, but it never affected our friendship or professional respect for one another.
Those of us who knew him well could tell Ken stories for hours. Possibly my most favorite occurred at an NCBA convention when it was just the NCA. Several couples of us had gone to supper, and Ken had consumed a fair amount of wine. His wife, Caroline, and several of the other wives excused themselves after supper and returned to their hotels. As several of us were returning later, we could hear loud singing as we approached our hotel. Looking down the alley, we saw Ken and a to-remain-nameless friend serenading their wives who were on the fourth or fifth floor of the hotel with open windows, beseeching their husbands to shush up and come to bed.
In writing this, I spoke to several of Ken’s close friends and associates including Dr. Del Miles, a prominent consulting veterinarian. Ken delighted in ribbing folks like Del. The two of them were the consultants for a Texas yard, and during one of Ken’s visits there was a question about a necropsy that prompted a phone call to Del.
After hearing the description of the critter, Del replied to the local vet that he really didn’t know what to diagnose but hearing Ken in the background told the vet to announce that it was a bloat. Immediately, Ken responded by saying that’s what veterinarians always say because they can’t spell enterotoxemia.
From a one-room schoolhouse outside Newman Grove, Neb., to prominence in the cattle industry, Ken is a true American success story. We miss him, but we know he’s found peace.
I’d Do It All Again
I dreamed I stood before the Judge
He asked, “Ken how do you plead?
It appears that you’ve been reckless
And sowed some wild seed.”
I said, “Once I was a little rowdy
And I’ve drank my share of wine
There are times I’ve acted stupid
Would you like to see my sign?”
“Cattle have been my business
And I’ve had a wreck or two
But if I have any regrets
It’s about things I didn’t do.”
“I’ve had fondness for the ladies
Sometimes I was careless with my heart
But some treated me the same
And we were friends when we’d part.”
“I was crazy in love with travel
No matter what the cost
I’d go to the middle of nowhere
Because it felt so good to be lost.”
“I wasn’t good at long-range planning
And though my plans lacked perfection
When life didn’t go as planned
I could adjust and change direction.”
“It’s been said, ‘You have a temper
Is that true?’ asked the judge
I said, ‘There’re times I got aggravated
But I never hold a grudge.’”
“It’s true I don’t sweat the small stuff
I hope that doesn’t make me a fool
I’ve ignored petty paperwork
But I obeyed the Golden Rule.”
“It says here your clothes seldom matched
The judge asked, ‘How do you plea?’
‘Judge,’ I said, ‘I can’t deny it.
I plead guilty in the first degree.’”
“The Judge said, ‘You’re obviously not perfect
Now that you’ve heard the evidence Ken,
What if I give you a second chance?’
I replied, ‘I guess I’d do it all again.’”
—Dr. Kenneth Eng