Weigh diet options before feeding your calves

By Gary Sliworsky, Ag rep, Emo
When calves come off pasture and into feed yards, planning a marketing strategy and feeding accordingly could be crucial to your bottom line, says a North Dakota State University beef specialist.
“You can use certain diets to achieve different levels of average daily gain depending on why you are backgrounding calves,” noted Karl Hoppe of the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Centre.
The condition of calves going into the backgrounding feed yard may influence that decision, too.
•High grain diet
With a diet of 60-70 percent grain, calves may gain three pounds a day or more.
“If you’re weaning 700-pound calves and you want them to gain 500 pounds and sell them at the seasonal market high in March, this might be an option to consider,” Hoppe said.
A risk of the diet is acidosis, or digestive upset. Another concern is too much weight gain.
Fleshy calves, those with too much weight compared to frame size, will be discounted if sold to a feeder.
High forage diet
With grain as only 20-30 percent of the diet, calves will increase their frame size and maintain their health, but little else. About a pound of gain per day can be expected.
“This may be your diet if you have lightweight calves and you want to get them through the winter as economically as possible so they can take advantage of lush spring grass growth,” said Hoppe.
•Equal mix of forage and grain
This diet will support growth of about two pounds per day.
“If you want to put some added weight on calves before they go to the feedlot with little risk of acidosis or bloat, this is a nice diet,” Hoppe remarked.
By mixing low-quality forages with good grain, or high-quality forages with poor-quality grain, producers often are able to make the most of available feeds. A total mixed ration is best to keep cattle on a consistent diet.
“No matter what diet you use, making sure it’s balanced and mixed in the right proportions is essential,” Hoppe stressed.
Performance of cattle on backgrounding diets is limited more often by the energy content of the feed than by the protein.
Producers also need to make sure requirements for calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals and vitamins are met.
Dates to remember
•Dec. 17-19–Large animal clinic dates for Dr. Stacey Angus (call 1-204-422-8749 to book an appointment).

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