Profit Tip: Feed Delivery and Feed Bunk Management
Bunk management can potentially influence feed consumption, improve feed efficiency, and be helpful to decrease health problems, and improve profitability of feedlot cattle. The feed delivery system must ensure that all cattle in the same pen have equal opportunity to consume feed (Horton, 1996). Proper bunk management should allow each animal in the pen to receive the amount of feed needed to maximize performance, while minimizing waste and spoilage. Improper bunk management does not maximize intake to what cattle are capable of consuming, which results in lost revenue because feed efficiency will not be maximized.
The bunk reader is the person in the feedlot who is responsible for deciding the daily amount of feed the cattle are to be fed (bunk call). The bunk reader should know the cattle history, what they have been fed, and how they are growing. With this knowledge, the bunk reader is able to call the amount to be fed that day. Bunk readers inspect every feed bunk 1 to 4 times a day, and modern computer systems can help with the feed calls.Cattle are creatures of habit, and expect to be fed in the same general area of the bunk at the same time every day (Horton, 1996). Therefore, feed delivery is critical to the overall performance of the cattle. It is important that drivers deliver what was called by the bunk reader. Cattle that do not have access to feed at times when they normally should have feed could experience digestive upset when they come to the bunk hungry at the next feeding (Horton, 1996). On the other hand, if the bunk is full all day, erratic intakes lead to feed wastage and digestive upset (Pritchard, 2008).The clean or 'slick' bunk management reduces wasted feed and could improve feed efficiency and gain. However, in this system, there is a fine line between feeding what the cattle need to maximize performance and underfeeding. In addition, negative implications on carcass quality could be observed, which could be related to decreased caloric intake. The goal with clean-bunk management systems would be to achieve long-term average DMI that will meet or exceed that of cattle fed ad libitum because if the bunk is well-managed, cattle will not go through problems of an 'intake crash' (abrupt reduction; Pritchard and Bruns, 2003).
When managing bunks, it is critical to know that:
- Bunk management systems that prevent cyclic intake patterns and/or overconsumption are the most beneficial (Pritchard and Bruns, 2003).
- Digestive disorders are a major cause of feedlot cattle death and could be caused by overeating and erratic eating patterns.
- Avoid erratic feed delivery to maintain steady ruminal fermentation and to minimize digestive disorders.
- Feed should be distributed at a consistent level down the entire length of the bunk.
- Cattle should be fed within 10 to 20 minutes of the same time every day.
- The bunk reader should watch for maintenance problems (i.e., leaking water troughs, broken cables, etc.).
- The feed bunks should not be full all day.
- Feed to match cattle appetites (i.e., quantities that meet the animal demands for nutrients to optimize performance; Pritchard, 2008).
- The correct ration should be delivered to the correct pen.
- It is important to adjust for changes in the moisture content of the diet.
- Ensure that each animal in the pen has the chance to consume feed to its full potential.
- Be aware that cattle daily gain and feed efficiency might be negatively affected by the erratic feed deliveries.
- Watch the bunks to minimize feed wastage resulting from sorting or climatic factors (e.g., rain, snow).
- Remember that, when managing bunks, judgment errors in feed quantity can easily result in underfeeding or overfeeding.
For more information see:
Horton, J. M. 1996. Bunk management, feed delivery and water trough management. In: Cattle Feeding: A Guide to Management, Albin and Thompson, ed., Trafton Printing, Inc, Amarillo, TX.
Pritchard, R. H. 2008. Bunk management. Available: http://www.chsnutrition.com/publications/Bunk%20management.pdf (no longer available, 2015)
Pritchard, R. H., and K. W. Bruns. 2003. Controlling variation in feed intake through bunk management. J. Anim. Sci. 81(E. Suppl. 2):E133-E138.
Dr. Judson Vasconcelos, Former Assistant Professor, Feedlot Specialist
University of Nebraska, Panhandle research and Extension Center, Scottsbluff, NE