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Vet on call: Understanding feedlots

Saturday May 19 2018

Livestock senior, Judge Coen Van Tonder inspects a bull the livestock stand during a past Agricultural Society of Kenya show.

Livestock senior, Judge Coen Van Tonder inspects a bull the livestock stand during a past Agricultural Society of Kenya show. For farmers interested in how to feed animals, feedlot cattle are offered specially-formulated diet that ensures they have the correct and uniform level of nutrients consistently throughout their feedlot stay. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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The article on feedlots, which ran last week, elicited many enquiries, with tens of farmers interested in the business of producing beef.

Pius from Kakamega wanted to know whether it is really possible to raise the weight of an animal so drastically in 90 days.

He wanted to understand the basis of the weight increase because he would want to start a feedlot.

Rita from Meru was impressed by the great weight gains and she wanted to know what feeds and feeding regime she can use to achieve them.

Next was Yvonne from Narok, who is engaged in small-scale beef production. She wanted to visit a farmer engaged in the trade to understand feeding, structures and vaccination requirements.

Jane from Mweiga in Nyeri keeps dairy cattle but she wanted to know how she could feed the dairy bulls for beef production. Musau, on the other hand, wanted to know how to solve the challenge of feed availability in beef cattle farming, especially when they are in a feedlot.

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Kathae and Kamau were greatly impressed by the performance of beef cattle in a feedlot and they wanted to know more about the farming before they get into.

Then there was Charles who wrote, “I intend to set up a feedlot project on my farm at Emali, Makueni County, and would like to enlist a professional to design and establish the project. I would appreciate any leads.”

I summarise the lines of enquiry as disbelief, feeding beef cattle in a feedlot and acquiring knowledge on beef feedlot farming. In addition, there was the feeding of dairy bull calves to produce beef and seeking professional help to establish a beef feedlot.

To begin with, acquiring knowledge regarding a business one wants to delve into is crucial to success. I can understand Pius’ disbelief in the weight gains of beef cattle in a feedlot.

The secret lies in the proper supply of the nutrient requirements of the animal and the allocation of the nutrient resources to the different functions of the body.

CONFINED TO LIMIT MOVEMENT

The beef cattle requires energy, proteins, minerals, vitamins and water in specified quantities every day. The resources are for normal body maintenance, including waste removal, growth including weight gain, reproduction and movement.

Animals in a feedlot are managed in a manner that ensures they use most of their nutrient resources for body maintenance and weight gain.

That is why they are confined to limit movement; they are supplied with highly nutritious feed at the recommended 3 per cent of their body weight in dry matter and very high levels of hygiene are ensured to minimise disease.

Males and females are separated to curtail reproduction activities. A beef feedlot should preferably be located in a low annual rainfall area below 750mm to minimise the nutrient resources allocated to temperature regulation and management of diseases associated with wetness such as foot rot, pneumonia and tick-borne infections.

It is, however, good to note that not all the animals will gain weight at the same rate. Careful selection of feedlot cattle will give the farmer a fairly uniform weight gain.

For those interested on how to feed the animals, feedlot cattle are offered specially-formulated diet that ensures they have the correct and uniform level of nutrients consistently throughout their feedlot stay.

Failure to give such feed will result in disappointment. The feeding regime recommended is three times a day of feed portions, constituting 3 per cent of the animal’s body weight as dry matter.

Research from the Colorado State University in the US showed that animals fed once or twice per day have lower feed intake, lower weight gains and lower carcass weights than those fed three times per day.

Obtain feeds from a reputable manufacturer who formulates them specifically for feedlot cattle unless one is running a large-scale production that can economically formulate the feeds. Attempts to formulate feeds on site for small and medium feedlots are very costly and often short on quality.

INADEQUATE WATER INTAKE DEPRESSES FEED INTAKE

Water is a critical ingredient in feedlot farming because it is a major nutrient for the cattle and is also used for maintaining hygiene.

A beef cow requires at least 40 litres of water per day and this may increase depending on environmental temperatures. Inadequate water intake depresses feed intake and, therefore, lowers weight gains.

There is a big difference between rearing dairy cattle bulls and finishing them for beef in a feedlot and beef feedlot farming.

A feedlot farmer is not a cattle producer. She is a cattle finisher and fattens the cattle for the market. That is the reason why the animals only spend 90 to 120 days in the feedlot.

Animals entering a feedlot have been produced elsewhere by a cattle producer such as a pastoralist, a dairy farmer or even a beef cattle producer.

Therefore, Jane and other dairy farmers who wish to feedlot their dairy bulls for beef production should appreciate the fact that they are seeking to be both cattle producers and beef finishers.

They must first rear their bull calves to feedlot entry weight before putting them in the programme.

Charles and others requiring further knowledge and professional help in beef feedlot farming may contact me via e-mail for more details and personalised attention.