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5 tips for managing feed intake in calves

5 tips for managing feed intake in calves

“Feeding beef cattle is an art and a science,” writes Roy Burris, University of Kentucky Beef Extension professor, in a recent Ohio State University Extension Beef Newsletter. Whether using a bunk or a self-feeder, there are several considerations to ensure cattle get the most out of the ration. Here are five tips to remember when feeding calves this fall:

1. Add roughage to limit feeding

If using a self-feeder, Burris recommends using roughage to limit feed intake to the desired levels. “Adding roughage will dilute out the energy content so that calves aren’t likely to overeat and founder,” he says.

2. Don’t forget about salt

Salt can be used as a limiter to cut back on dry matter intake to prevent founder or acidosis.

“Salt can be used as an intake limiter because cattle will generally consume about a tenth of a pound of salt per cwt. of body weight (BW) before they quit eating,” writes Burris. “Thus 500-pound calves will consume about 0.5 pound of salt before they stop eating. This means that whatever amount of feed that is desired for daily consumption should be mixed with a half pound of salt.”

3. Increase intake gradually

Whether you’re starting weaned calves on a ration or finishing out fat cattle, the ration should be increased gradually to avoid founder, says Burris.

Burris writes, “Calves can generally eat about 1% of their body weight without problems, but feed should be increased gradually from that point until they are consuming all that they want. I usually start at about 1% BW in an open trough and increase by a pound every day or two until the calves leave some feed, at that point you can switch them to a self-feeder.”

4. Bunk management is key

Pay attention to your self-feeders and double check that feed is flowing down properly.

“Every time you have a blowing rain, the feed in the trough portion of the feeder will get wet and should be removed,” advises Burris. “If not, mold will occur and the feed may cake up and cattle won’t eat it. It also won’t allow feed to flow downward. Pay close attention to self-feeders. Cattle that are on full feed should not be without feed for very long or overeating will occur when feed becomes available.”

Burris also says that coarse-cut stalks in silage or feed that has been rained on in the bunk should be removed before it molds.

“Remember – in order to have the most efficient gains, calves should have access to fresh, clean feed,” he says.

5. Water is the most important feeding tool

Burris reminds producers to check automatic waterers frequently. Feed particles and manure can sour the water, so cleaning it out regularly is incredibly important. “Be sure that calves have an abundant source of clean, fresh water for best performance,” he says.

What other tips would you add to this list? Share your management strategies in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.

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