Starting Right

The condition of incoming feedlot calves and how they started on feed will affect total feedlot performance.

Variety may indeed be the spice of life. But variety also can be a tricky thing to navigate when you're the manager of a 12,000-head cattle feeding operation that becomes home to young cattle of all classes, types and conditions.

The custom feeding operation in Sioux Center, IA, is owned by Farmers Co-op Society (FCS). Feeding out beef cattle since 1972, the feedlot's one-time capacity is 8,000 head in confinement buildings and 4,000 head in outside lots. In addition, backgrounding lots are available in the area for customers who prefer to let FCS start their light cattle.

A situation like Farmers Co-op Confinement Feedlot, with incoming cattle of many different types and classes, dictates how the animals are managed to start them on feed properly, says Larry Cheney, beef consultant, Land O' Lakes/Farmland Feeds.

“Are calves coming in as preconditioned (weaned, fed for 30 to 40 days, given their initial round of vaccinations and boostered), or are they bawling calves that were pulled off their mothers, loaded on trucks and hauled 20 to 30 hours to get to the lot?” Cheney asks.

Health status, backgrounds and stress are different for cattle coming directly off grass compared to those that have been in a growout yard and put on 300-400 lbs.

“Our number-one concern in the feedlot is cost-efficient performance,” Cheney says. “We need dry matter intake with the right kind of calories that translates into feed conversion for carcass gain. Final dry matter conversion rates usually reflect the way cattle were started on feed when they arrived at the feedlot.”

According to Cheney, the typical starting program for spring calves weaned in the fall and sent to the feedyard under moderate stress should include:

  • First, make sure they have plenty of clean, fresh water. Lot space should be adequate, and the surface should be as dry as possible; dust or mud can add stress to incoming calves.

  • Day 1: Give them access to long-stem hay at about 1% of bodyweight (5 lbs. for a 500-lb. calf).

  • Day 2: If the hay is cleaned up, add another 1% of bodyweight of long-stem hay and top-dress with 1% bodyweight of starter ration.

  • Day 3: If calves are starting to push the hay aside to get to the ration, begin reducing the hay amount and top-dress 6 lbs. of starter ration on the hay once they are cleaning up the ration from the previous day.

  • Day 4: Continue reducing the long-stem hay and increase the starter ration by 1 lb.

  • Day 5 and on: Pull the long-stem hay and increase starter ration by another 1 lb./head/day. Continue this process until the calves are consuming 3% of their incoming body weight of starter ration.

  • During this starting phase, calves can be “worked.” An ionophore may be fed through the starting phase as a coccidiocide, and antibiotics can be fed at the appropriate levels if any signs of disease crop up.

  • A typical starting ration might look similar to this: chopped alfalfa hay — 35%, whole corn — 30%, wet corn gluten feed — 20% and Land O' Lakes Stress Care Liquid — 15%.

More information is available at the Land O' Lakes Farmland beef production Web site,

This article is written by Gary Burchfield of Hansen Communications.

A Stress Care Believer

Because his feeders come from so many different owners, Jeremy Jansen, manager of the Farmers Co-op Society (FCS) feedlot, says it's important to evaluate incoming cattle and get them quickly started on the most appropriate feeding program. That's doubly true for stressed cattle, he says.

Jansen pays close attention to stressed calves, particularly greener cattle coming in off pasture, usually at 600-700 lbs. and new to feedlot conditions.

“Freshly weaned calves that are long-haul type cattle tend to be highly stressed as well,” Jansen says. “So, we incorporate Land O' Lakes Stress Care Liquid into rations for the first 14 days as standard practice for highly stressed cattle,” he says.

Designed to get new cattle to the bunk quickly, the fortified liquid supplement contains vitamins and minerals in a molasses base. Yeast culture enhances feed palatability and stimulates rumen microflora and digestion.

Mark Kujawa, PhD and vice president of technical services-worldwide for Diamond V Mills, says the yeast culture nurtures healthy populations of rumen microbes.

“The rumen microbes break down feedstuffs into starches, sugars, proteins and other nutrients for absorption and use by the animal for maintenance, growth and production,” he says.

During those first two critical weeks, the yeast culture helps the rumen function at optimal levels, allowing the calves to more fully utilize nutrients from their feed to better overcome stress, build the immune system and do better in the feedlot, he adds.

Jansen says that when new cattle get up to the bunk and eat well, they become efficient gainers for the rest of their time in his lots. The liquid supplement with yeast culture makes up about 7% of the starter ration for incoming feeders.

Beyond that, the feedlot's total-mixed rations are built around good alfalfa hay, corn, wet distillers grains and condensed corn solubles. The latter two are by-products of Siouxland Energy & Livestock ethanol plant, located adjacent to the FCS feedlot.

Producers don't have to be co-op members to bring their cattle to the FCS feedlot, but most are, says FCS beef specialist Paul Smit.

Jansen says the feedlot emphasizes a feeding program that produces lower costs of gain. “If we can put on 400-500 lbs. of beef per animal at 10 percent lower feed cost, that's an extra $25/head net for the owner,” he says.

Finished cattle are generally marketed on a dressed basis or on grids to area packers.

Access the Farmers Co-op Society Web site at