Our feedlot is full of growing calves this time of year and keeping them all fed keeps an entire team busy. To keep them growing and healthy we feed them multiple times a day, and we aren’t just throwing some hay in the pen with them. The process of feeding calves takes a team that includes a nutritionist to put together a feeding program for them, the Feedlot Manager to read bunks in the morning, our Feed Mill Manager to coordinate feeding, and feed truck drivers to deliver the feed.
Our nutritionist makes a ration for them that is formulated for that specific group of cattle based off of production goals, age of the calves, nutrient content of feed ingredients, and how well the ingredients will stay mixed together. This ration can then be adjusted throughout the season because of new information we learn from feed ingredient assays, the weather, and even feed prices. The ration for each group of cattle can be different depending on the needs of different groups. It will contain a mix of grain, roughage, and other supplements. Grain gives energy that helps them to grow quickly, roughage is great for their gut health, and the supplements ensure that they are getting the vitamins and minerals that they need.
Feeding them the right amount
The next step is what we call reading bunks. Over time, the calves feed intake will change. They eat more as they grow, and they eat more when it’s cold than when it’s hot out. They eat less than normal when they are sick or stressed as well. We don’t want to waste feed and we definitely don’t want them to go hungry, so our Feedlot Manager will drive around the feedlot first thing every single morning and look at each group of cattle and the feed bunk for that pen. If there is a lot of feed leftover, he will adjust the amount of feed so that they’ll be fed a little less. If there are a few crumbs left but the cattle are laying down relaxing and not standing near the bunk, they were fed just about the right amount; and if there is no feed left and cattle are standing near the feed bunk, he’ll adjust the amount so that they’re fed more. Just like us, cattle don’t eat the same amount every day, so this isn’t a perfect science, but it does help us make sure that we are doing our best to feed them what they need.
Feeding the cattle
The actual feeding can get complicated too. The ration is put into a computer program that our Feed Mill Manager uses to create feed cards for our feed truck drivers. Each driver gets a set of feed cards each morning that tells them what ration they are feeding and what pens they are delivering it to. They fill their feed trucks with the correct amount of each ration ingredient, and the feed trucks are designed to mix feed as the driver slowly moves the feed truck from the feed mill to the feedlot. By the time the driver reaches the pen that they are feeding the ration is mixed and ready to be eaten by hungry cattle.
Is there more that goes into feeding than you thought? This is just one aspect of what we do to keep them thriving. If you have more questions about this, please feel free to reach out over social media or submit a question here. We’d love to talk to you!