Alternative Growing Programs For Stockers
David Lalman, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist
|2 lbs. per day||1% of body weight||1.5% of body weight|
|Corn, lbs. per day
Soybean meal, lbs. per day
Range cube, 38%
Forage intake, lbs. DM per day
Feed crude protein, % as fed
Estimated ADG, lbs. per day
.5 – 1.0
1.25 – 1.5
1.75 – 2.0
Alfalfa hay and corn grain are very complimentary from a nutritional perspective. Good quality alfalfa hay contains high levels of degradable protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium and it is a good source of many of the trace minerals. Corn grain, on the other hand is a good source of energy and phosphorus. If these feeds are available at reasonable prices, a growing program for calves can be centered on these commodities. A blend of sixty percent coarsely chopped or long stemmed alfalfa hay and forty percent corn grain (cracked or whole shelled) can sustain weight gains ranging from 1.75 to 2.25 pounds per day. Animal performance will vary greatly depending on hay quality as well as previous management of the cattle and their genetic potential for growth. Alternatively, if the two ingredients can not be blended, hay can be fed free choice or in limited amounts and corn can be fed at 1% of body weight. Table 2 shows the amount of corn and good quality alfalfa hay required to maintain around 2 pounds per day gain for moderate frame steer calves ranging from 350 to 650 pounds.
Table 2. Corn and alfalfa hay rations for steers gaining 2 pounds per day at different body weights.
|Weight of cattle|
Alfalfa hay, lb. as fed1
Whole or cracked corn, lb. as fed
Growing rations based on corn and alfalfa have been used for many years with good success. This alternative is relatively simple, because it can be accomplished with little or no additional feed processing or mixing. Once cattle have been adjusted to this type of ration, the risk of digestive upset is relatively low because a significant amount of roughage is still being fed.
Using Byproduct Feeds to Grow Calves or Stretch Forage
Prices for byproduct feeds, such as wheat middlings, soybean hulls, corn gluten feed and barley malt sprout pellets, are unusually low this fall. This is primarily a result of reduced exports of these products and the huge corn crop grown in the Corn Belt. These low prices, combined with the lack of hay, stockpiled summer pasture and wheat pasture has resulted in an incredible influx of these feeds into Oklahoma. With the exception of wheat middlings, these feeds are relatively new to Oklahoma cattlemen. Byproduct feeds tend to vary a great deal in nutrient concentration. Therefore, it is a good idea to obtain a laboratory feed analysis from the supplier for each load of feed. If an analysis is not available specifically for the feed you have purchased or are considering purchasing, send a sample off and have it tested yourself. By being aware of the nutritional characteristics of each of these feeds and adjusting the ration accordingly, you can minimize toxicity problems and disappointments in animal performance. Once the nutrient concentration of the feed has been determined, an appropriate feeding rate or feed blend will need to be determined. See your Extension Agriculture Educator for assistance in designing the feeding program. Because of some of these nutritional characteristics, very few byproduct feeds can be fed as a single ingredient in complete cattle rations. A few of these characteristics are discussed below.
If wheat is used, it should be blended with other commodities to reduce the risk of acidosis. As a conservative rule of thumb, feed wheat at no more than .5% of body weight. Approximately 15 to 20% of whole grain wheat escapes digestion. Therefore, wheat should be coarsely cracked or rolled.
In a feeding situation where wheat middlings is used to replace forage, wheat middlings should be blended with another commodity to reduce the risk of founder and bloat. As a general rule of thumb, up to one percent of body weight wheat middlings does not cause these problems, assuming adequate forage is available. The finely processed starch from the wheat milling process is the primary culprit causing these problems. Wheat middlings vary a great deal in starch content, from 15 to 40 percent. Soybean hulls work well in combination with wheat middlings because soybean hulls contain very little flour or starch.
Corn gluten feed and barley malt sprout pellets must be blended with other commodities if they are to be fed in amounts greater than .5% of the animal’s body weight. The potential problem with feeding these commodities as the sole concentrate source is the high sulfur content. Beef cattle can tolerate diets with a maximum sulfur concentration of around .4%. Both corn gluten and barley malt sprout pellets typically contain .2 to .6% sulfur. Corn grain and soybean hulls both have relatively low sulfur content and work well blended with these byproducts. If there is any question, be sure to have the feeds tested for sulfur concentration so that an appropriate blend of feeds can be formulated. Corn gluten feed must be dried at the wet milling plant before it can be shipped. Overheating during the drying process can reduce palatability and protein digestibility. Both of these products are a good source of degradable protein if they have not been overheated. Be aware of these potential sources of variation.
Soybean hulls contain very little starch, making them a good alternative to replace hay or standing forage. However, some cattlemen have experienced bloat when feeding soybean hulls free choice or at levels exceeding 1.5 percent of body weight. Others have indicated that cattle can choke when they are adjusting to soybean hulls. This byproduct expands a great deal when it comes in contact with water and saliva. When cattle consume a large amount of this feed they will appear to be extremely full. To minimize the risk of bloat when feeding soybean hulls at high levels, make certain that adequate hay or standing forage is available at all times. Also, as with any ration change, be sure to make gradual changes in the ration, rather than abrupt changes to allow the animals to adapt. Providing an ionophore, such as Bovatec or Rumensin should help reduce the risk of bloat problems. Research at OSU indicated that blending one-third corn grain with soybean hulls reduces bloat problems. Adding corn will also increase daily gains. An additional protein source would need to be added to the diet for calves weighing less than 400 pounds. Phosphorus and vitamin A will need to be provided in a free choice mineral supplement, if not blended in the feed.
Fortunately, current feed prices do present cattlemen the opportunity to grow cattle at reasonable costs, even with limited forage. However, a greater amount of homework, labor and management skill will be required compared to traditional forage growing programs.