If you plan on taking a steer or heifer to your county fair in August or September, and you hope to have that animal finished well enough to win, now is the time to start feeding grain. Unfortunately it’s hard for youngsters to feed their animals while school is still in session, but any delay will result in a lightweight animal, unable to make grade.
Let’s go through some exercises to determine gain and feed needs.
You can do those same steps with your own animal and fair date. In my example, this tells me that this animal will need to be on a finishing diet as soon as possible. Another name for a finishing feed is a high concentrate or high grain diet. Most youngsters buy the grain part of this diet from their local feed store. A lot of times it is called ‘Steer Finisher’, but it also works great for heifers. Some finisher feeds available have an additive known as Rumensin? that improves the digestion of the feed. It also protects the animal from bloat and prevents coccidiosis. It is definitely worth the extra cost.
My steer is being fed grass hay right now. This animal needs to be fed grain so that he will gain more than 3 lb/day. Care needs to be taken to get the animal ‘on feed’ without causing digestive disturbances such as bloat, founder, or acidosis. These diseases occur when animals eat too much grain too fast.
The steer in
my example weighed 870 lb. He should eat about 3% of his bodyweight
daily. That amounts to 870 x 0.03 = 26 lb. To start feeding grain, we
want to feed no more than 30% of that total. So 26 lb x 0.30 = 7.8 lb.
I will round this up to 8 lb of steer finisher. This should be fed in
two feedings. He will get 4 lb in the a.m. and 4 lb in the p.m. It’s
really important to feed at the exact same time each day. He will also
have access to the same hay he has been on. It will be available to
him all day and night. We want to clean his water bucket, trough, or
tank regularly. Water intake and feed intake go hand in hand. Dirty
water can lead to sickness at worst; at least it will reduce feed intake
and gain. I think it is important to put a plain white salt block in
the pen with the steer. Salt encourages the steer to drink water and
eat more feed. It’s something for the animal to do when he’s
feeling bored standing around in a small pen.
Since many youngsters use a coffee can to measure feed, it would be best to weigh a can-full. Not all grain mixes weigh the same. There can be as much as 1 lb weight difference in a 3 lb coffee can.
We want to increase the amount of grain our steer is fed in a way that is easy for him to handle, and easy for us to do. The following table is one way of feeding grain.
The cattle are now eating 20 lb of grain daily. It would be best to use 24 lb daily as the maximum amount of grain fed to an animal. That way we are certain that they will eat enough hay to keep them healthy. Add those last 4 lb of grain the same way that was used for the first 20 lb.
While increasing the grain watch the animal closely for any sign of digestive upset. Does he have diarrhea, is he kicking at his stomach, are any of his feet sore? If he doesn’t eat his grain, don’t just keep feeding more. See if you can figure out why he didn’t eat; was he feeling sick, did he run out of water, did a neighbor’s dog get in his pen? Sometimes animals appear to get tired of their grain, in many cases, the grain has begun to mold or rodents have gotten into it. When this happens smell the grain and look for any evidence of rodents. You may have to throw that bag away. Sometimes you even have to change brands of grain to get the animal eating again. When something happens to interrupt your feeding schedule, go back to the amount of grain he was comfortable with and then start increasing grain after a few days of that amount.
If you change sources of hay, be on the lookout for any problem that might develop. The steer may not like the new hay. If that happens, don’t continue to increase the grain until he begins eating a normal amount of hay. The hay may never work; don’t force him to eat it. Get some other hay. It’s best not to feed dairy quality alfalfa hay. A good clean grass hay, grain hay, or grassy-alfalfa hay is best.
If summer ever arrives it’s important to do your best to keep your animal cool and comfortable. This can be done by building a shade on the southwest side of the pen, or by sprinkling the pen daily. During very hot weather cattle change their eating habits. They eat very early in the morning (before dawn) and very late at night. They eat the biggest portion of their daily feed at night when it is relatively cool. You need to make certain that there is plenty of feed available during that time period. You might change the feeding schedule during hot weather to feed earlier in the morning and later in the evening.
One problem that I get lots of calls about is animals that are light and need to gain quite a bit of weight the last 30 days before the fair. Don’t let this happen to you. Trying to get a heavy animal to eat a lot of feed when it’s hot is a losing proposition. There is no special diet or additive that can be used to accomplish this. It would be much better to have to keep an animal on a maintenance diet because you believe he has reached the desired weight 30 days before fair. To change the rate of gain so that the animal maintains or loses a little weight, the amount of grain is reduced. If you have to do this make certain that there is plenty of hay, because he will eat more hay. You may have to reduce the grain to 10- 12 lb daily to keep him at about a pound a day gain. You don’t have to reduce the grain in stages; just feed the amount you feel is needed on the day you begin. Continue to feed grain morning and evening.
Remember to figure in shrink. When you take your animal from home to the fair to be weighed, he will lose about 8% of his bodyweight due to stress, hauling, handling, new surroundings, and new cattle and people. If your plan was for him to weigh 1000 lb, he should leave home weighing 1080 lb. He will gain a lot of this weight back once he settles in, drinks water, and begins to eat again.
Hopefully this will help young livestock men and women feed their animal successfully for showing at the fair.
Michael J. Mehren, Ph.D. is a livestock nutritionist scouting everywhere for signs of global warming near Hermiston, Oregon. He can be contacted by Email at email@example.com.