Capitalize On “Spring Feeding Frenzy”

Managed correctly, a calf's “spring feeding frenzy” can produce higher gains, improve feed efficiency, reduce health problems and boost profit potential.


Spring has sprung. It’s the time of year when cattle feeders can capitalize on the natural urge for cattle to hit the bunks and increase feed intake. Managed correctly this “spring feeding frenzy” can produce higher gains, improve feed efficiency, reduce health problems and boost profit potential. Fortunately, there is a proven method of creating a consistent rate of dry matter intake, which promotes peak cattle performance.

By feeding a ration with high-quality concentrates, the correct grain flake, and which contains a blend of nutrients and feed additives fed at recommended levels, cattle will likely generate the gains and feed conversion needed to help offset high input costs, says Dennis White, retired senior technical consultant for Elanco Animal Health.

“The spring feeding frenzy happens when the weather clears up from winter,” says White, now a stocker operator and backgrounder in Ninnekah, OK. “Cattle tend to feel better. They have a bigger appetite. It’s when cattle tend to charge the bunk. We want them to eat a lot of feed – but in a controlled manner – where they eat more meals per day. That will nearly always help increase their performance.”

Years of research and on-the-job experience shows that cattle naturally eat a little less during the winter months, when cold and often damp weather reduces their appetite. But when the days grower warmer and longer, dry matter intake (DMI) increases. If not managed properly, the spring feeding frenzy can lower average daily gain (ADG) and hurt feed conversion throughout the feeding period. Variable intakes increase the incidence of ruminal acidosis and liver abscesses, and cause more digestive disorders and even increase death loss.                                                 

Maximize DMI

Average DMI normally increases when spring arrives. Fed cattle with a constant intake pattern have a higher ADG and improved feed efficiency when compared to cattle with a varied intake, according to research by the Clayton (NM) Livestock Research Center1. Over an 84-day feeding period, cattle that were maintained at a constant level of feed intake converted 7% more efficiently than cattle whose feed intake was varied daily to simulate variable feed intake.

A feed enhancer that helps cattle feeders better manage the spring feeding frenzy is Rumensin. White, who helped introduce the product to feedyards in the 1970s and 1980s, says Rumensin has stood the test of time for more than 35 years. “It continues to complement improved feed rations by helping cattle maintain a consistent feeding pattern,” he says. “Rumensin helps prevent fed cattle from charging the bunk.”

White says using Rumensin at an elevated dose can help feeders control DMI even more during the increased intake period. “Early data showed it would improve feed efficiency up to 40 g/ton,” he says. “Used properly, Rumensin can help feedyard operators promote a constant, consistent intake of ration.”

Healthier cattle

Feedyards quickly grew to depend on Rumensin in their rations to help manage feed intake. White stresses that by managing feed intake, feedyards promote healthier cattle. However, if not managed, increased feed intake variation will promote more subacute and acute ruminal acidosis, as well as increased incidence of liver abscesses, increased digestive disorders and related death loss.

White says that the proven management practices that help feedyards obtain better feed efficiency during spring feeding frenzy are likely in nearly every yard’s working plan. Feedyards should:

  • Make sure forage and concentrate feed ingredients are of high quality.
  • Make sure the grain flake weight is correct.
  • Make sure nutrients and feed additives are at recommended levels.
  • Make sure the ration is fed in the correct proportion.

“Feedyards, working with their consulting nutritionist, should closely monitor feed intake, liver abscesses, digestive disorders and death loss and other disorders that cattle may experience during the spring feeding frenzy,” White concludes. “Managed properly, we can generate the highest possible performance for cattle at a time when input costs are the highest on record.”

1Galyean, ML. 1992. Effects of Varying the Pattern of Feed Consumption on Performance by Programmed-Fed Beef Steers. Clayton Livestock Research Center Progress Report ’78.