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, says Erika Lundy, a program specialist with Iowa Beef Center.
Lundy says IBC's definition of feed bunk management is "delivery of a consistent, 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.
Lundy says 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%.
Making better feed delivery decisions
Feed delivery decisions 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, Lundy says.
One common approach is to use South Dakota State University's 4-point scoring system 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, Lundy notes.
6 best practices for feed bunk management
Also consider six best practices for feed bunk management:
1. Read each bunk at the same time every day, before the morning feeding.
2. Have feed delivered within a 30-minute window daily to optimize performance.
3. Maintain consistency of feed quality and quantity throughout the entire length of the bunk.
4. Establish a standard amount to increase (or decrease) feed offered. Typically this is the equivalent of approximately 2% to 3% DMI per day, depending on the goals of the manager.
5. Wait a minimum of three days after an increase in feed delivery before increasing again.
6. Provide written feed bunk management guidelines and standards to all employees to ensure consistent decision-making on feed calls.
"Good feed bunk management reduces the incidence of acidosis-related problems, simplifies feeding decisions for employees, improves efficiency and reduces the cost of production," Lundy concludes.
"While a feedlot can adopt its own style of feed bunk management, accurate record keeping and utilization is vital for its success," she says.