Uniformly mixed rations are important to maximize intake and performance of feedlot cattle. Total mixed rations should be precisely balanced for maximum performance, and the mixing of ingredients should be thorough and consistent. Performance can also be affected if ration ingredients are of poor quality. In addition, it is important economically to avoid overfeeding expensive nutrients, or have the risk of nutrient deficiencies (Doran and Loy, 2008).
Reducing variability of the feed is also important to promote digestive health of feedlot cattle. Rations should be mixed in the same order each time and delivered at a consistent level down the entire length of the bunk. Mixing equipment should be regularly inspected for fluid leaks, appropriately maintained and cleaned.Feed storage should be done in a place protected from the environment and animals. It should be clean and inspected periodically for contamination. Chemicals and hazardous material should never be stored in areas where feed is stored.
Consumption can be affected when old, stale feed is allowed to accumulate in the bunk. Therefore, bunk management and feed loss management are closely related. Feedlots with a slick bunk management see reduced feed waste and, in addition, cattle consume fresher feed.
Some important tips related to feed quality, feed storage, and feed loss management include:
- Analyze incoming ingredients and use selected suppliers that have quality control programs.
- Always monitor ingredients moisture.
- Use either a Koster Tester, a microwave oven, or a forced-air oven to check ration and ingredients moisture.
- Keep daily or weekly inventory reports.
- Check incoming ingredients moisture, color, odor, and texture.
- Watch for the presence of foreign material, heat damage, mold, and spoilage.
- Establish rejection criteria for incoming ingredients to ensure the best ration possible.
- Keep written quality control targets.
- Always handle feeds in a way that ensures that contamination does not occur.
- Frequently sample both ingredients and the total mixed ration.
- The ration should be consistently mixed.
- Check if the feed analysis matches the ration formulation.
- The mixer scale should be checked periodically for accuracy.
- Bunker forages should be tightly packed to minimize spoilage.
- Recognize that coproducts (e.g., distillers grain) will vary in nutrient content. A regular testing program should be established for coproducts used.
- Water must be kept clean.
- Reduce bunk shoveling with good bunk management.
- Estimate and account for feed waste.
- Watch the bunks to minimize feed wastage resulting from sorting or climatic factors (e.g., rain, snow).
- In times of high feed costs, reducing feed waste does make a difference.
Dr. Judson Vasconcelos, Former Assistant Professor, Feedlot Specialist
University of Nebraska, Panhandle research and Extension Center, Scottsbluff, NE