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Iowa Beef Center, Iowa State University
September 2015   Volume 6, Issue 3
In this issue
Feed bunk management
By Erika Lundy, IBC program specialist

Feed bunk management – especially when starting a group of cattle on feed – is a vital component of preventing fluctuation of intakes. As cattle producers begin weaning calves and receiving new cattle, it’s important to consider feed bunk management practices that will benefit cattle performance and increase the bottom line. Ultimately, improper bunk management results in lost revenue to the producer because feed conversion is not maximized.
At Iowa Beef Center, our definition of feed bunk management is the delivery of a Newly arrived calves at feed bunkconsistent, fresh ration in a manner designed to maximize feed intake while minimizing waste and spoilage.

This includes feed delivery decisions, feed mixing, nutrient balancing, feedstuff quality control, and other factors related to feed presentation. Inconsistent ration mixing and delivery can lead to digestive disorders, disrupting cattle intake disruption and cattle performance and efficiency that is reduced by as much as 20%.

Feed delivery decisions (feed calls) are estimates of the amount of feed a pen of cattle will consume daily. Factors such as cattle frame size, weight, weather and health must be taken into account, and producers also must account for the effect of a given feed intake on intake at subsequent feedings.

For example, cattle might consume all of the delivered feed shortly after a feed delivery increase, yet lose appetite and crash a day or two later. This classic mistake sets the stage for roller coaster consumption patterns.

One common approach is to use South Dakota State University’s 4-point scoring system (Table 1) that allows the feeder to estimate actual consumption and appetite in addition to feed deliveries.

Checking records of the previous four to seven days when making feed calls allows the feeder to see intake trends (increasing, steady, decreasing) and can illustrate delayed response in cattle behavior to a feed change. Charting dry matter intake also is an efficient way to see visual trends.
Table 1. SDSU 4-Point Bunk Scoring System
Score Description
0 No feed remaining in bunk.
½ Scattered feed present. Most of bottom of bunk exposed.
1 Thin, uniform layer of feed across bottom of bunk. Typically about 1 kernel deep.
2 25%-50% of previous day’s feed remains.
3 Crown of feed is thoroughly disturbed. More than 50% of previous day’s feed remains.
4 Feed is virtually untouched. Crown of previous day’s feed still noticeable, or undisturbed.
 Consider these best practices for your feed bunk management protocol:
  • Read each bunk at the same time every day - before the morning feeding.
  • Have feed delivered within a 30-minute window daily to optimize performance.
  • Maintain consistency of feed quality and quantity throughout the entire length of the bunk.
  • Establish a standard amount to increase (or decrease) feed offered. Typically this is the equivalent of approximately 2% - 3% DMI per day, depending on the goals of the manager.
  • Wait a minimum of three days after an increase in feed delivery before increasing again.
  • Provide written feed bunk management guidelines and standards to all employees to ensure consistent decision-making on feed calls.
In summary, good feed bunk management reduces the incidence of acidosis-related problems, simplifies feeding decisions for employees, improves efficiency and reduces the cost of production. While a feedlot can adopt its own style of feed bunk management, accurate record keeping and utilization is vital for its success.

Feedlot facility decision making - Comparing the economics of cattle feeding facilities (second of two parts)
By Russ Euken ISU Extension beef program specialist

With several facility types and each having advantages and disadvantages, choosing which to use in your operation isn’t an easy decision. Although there are other considerations, costs and returns will be a major consideration.The initial investment cost may range from $300 up to $1500 per head depending on type of facility.  If an operator is going to invest more money in a facility they are likely expecting to help pay for the investment through improved cattle performance, increased cattle value at market, increased manure value, and possibly lower labor inputs.

In the beef feedlot systems manual we introduced in last month's Growing Beef newsletter, the initial investment cost plus assumptions on depreciation and financing, cattle performance, manure value and labor needs are outlined. Those costs and assumptions are then compared on a cost per pound of gain between the facility types. The following table shows that comparison for yearling steers after credit is given for manure value.

Net cost of gain with manure credit (Cost of gain for yearlings) PM1867 Beef Feedlot Systems Manual
  Earthen lot with windbreak Earthen lot with shed Concrete lot with shed Confinement solid floor Confinement slatted floor
Cost per lb. of gain $0.82 $0.84 $0.85 $0.86 $0.89
Manure value per lb. of gain $0.04 $0.04 $0.04 $0.07 $0.08
Net cost per lb. of gain $0.78 $0.80 $0.81 $0.79 $0.81

The assumptions used in this analysis are explained in the beef feedlot systems manual but remember that individual situations can vary greatly. For that reason, a spreadsheet was developed to compare systems using the individual’s own inputs and assumptions. This decision tool spreadsheet is called the Feedlot Facility Economic Assessment Calculator and can be downloaded for free from the Iowa Beef Center website. Register here for access.

Inputs include the facility investment cost, cattle gain and feed efficiency, manure amount and value, and labor inputs.  Three facility types can be compared at a time. In addition to a cost of gain comparison, an income statement and other financial measures that compare return on investment are calculated.
Iowa Beef Center Director column
Social Aspects of Sustainability
By Dan Loy, IBC director

Sustainability is a buzzword in the beef industry today. In July the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef gathered for its first general assembly to begin the development of a continuous improvement process. Other countries also have begun this process following the meeting of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef meeting held in Brazil last November.

Members that attended the Global Roundtable agreed on principles and criteria in that meeting, and most agree that sustainability in the beef industry can be defined as the combination of economic opportunity, environmental stewardship and social acceptance. As producers try to grasp the implications of the sustainability movement on their futures the first challenge is struggling with the definition of sustainability and what it means to them and their operations.

Most cattle producers have a clear understanding of economic sustainability. This of course relates to good management, efficiency and sound business decisions. These are the factors that keep them in business and able to support their livelihoods, educate their children and put food on the table. Long term and transitional planning help maintain future generations’ ability to do the same. Producers also understand environmental sustainability and continually strive to improve soil conservation, water quality and nutrient management. It is the social aspects of the sustainability that are less clear to many cattlemen.

When considering social acceptability many producers think first about neighbor relations and their common misperceptions about livestock production practices. However, social acceptability in the sustainability context is much broader and relates to the beef consumer wanting to purchase and consume safe, wholesome beef.

Read all of this column on the IBC website.

Industry information
Save the date
The Iowa Beef Center's 2015 Beef Nutrition Research Showcase will be held Friday, Oct. 2 at the Iowa State University Beef Nutrition Farm and at Kildee Hall on the ISU campus. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. and the event concludes at 3 p.m. No charge, but preregistration is required. Check for more info, including preregistration details. A website dedicated to beef cattle genetics
A new website dedicated to beef cattle genetics was launched at the 2015 Beef Improvement Federation Conference. ( ) is part of the national eXtension program and organizers say they want it to be a one-stop site for beef cattle genetics and genomics information.


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