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Feed bunk management key to feedlot performanceFeed bunk management key to feedlot performance

Poor feed bunk management practices can result in inconsistent intake patterns and lowered gains.

August 29, 2016

3 Min Read
Feed bunk management key to feedlot performance

Applying key bunk management practices can save a feedlot from health issues, wasted feed and lost pounds from decreased average daily gain (ADG).

“Feed bunk management is the daily opportunity for cattle feeders to influence and ensure top performance and profitability for their cattle,” said Dr. Marty Andersen, a nutritionist with Zoetis. “It’s an important management component for cattle to achieve their best potential.”

While balancing multiple responsibilities, such as cleaning lots, prepping rations and caring for cattle, stop and analyze the health of the cattle feeding operation. With the warmer weather, are you adjusting feeding times and providing adequate access to water? Cattle produce incremental heat while consuming feed, so consider splitting rations across morning and night, away from the warmest times of the day to avoid heat stress. Access to water is important at all times, especially during summer months.

How much space per head do cattle have in the bunk? Andersen recommends 12 in. or more of bunk space per head. In confinement barns, 12 in. of bunk space may not always be possible. In these situations, bunks should be managed to encourage feed intake, which means having fresh feed in front of the cattle for a majority of the day and cleaning bunks shortly before the morning feeding.

How about broken bunks, cables and wires? Debris can deter cattle from going to the bunk and could cause additional expense due to injuries, so keep safety at the forefront by repairing bunks as soon as possible.

Make bunk cleaning a priority. Leftover feed is at risk for weather damage and spoilage, attracting flies and other insects. Spoiled feed in the bunk can turn cattle away from feed. While it’s convenient to pour fresh rations on top of the spoiled feed, reconsider this practice. If the spoiled feed doesn’t deter cattle, they risk overconsumption and subsequent metabolic problems, such as bloat and acidosis, when their feed intake pattern is disrupted. Ideally, feed intake should be consistent. Moving cattle up on feed, ingredient changes and extreme weather can make bunk management difficult. Discuss strategies with a nutritionist and veterinarian to help cattle cope with these challenges.

Poor feed bunk management practices can result in inconsistent intake patterns, causing reduced dry matter intake and lowering ADG by as much as 15%. When including ionophores, attentive bunk management practices and consistent feed intake and mixing are vital so that cattle receive the appropriate amount to increase weight gain and feed efficiency.

Andersen provided the following tips to improve bunk management:

1. Offer an easily accessible and adequate supply of clean water to encourage feed consumption.

2. Provide 12-24 in. of bunk space per head to avoid overcrowding.

3. Provide a clean concrete feeding pad with a depth of 8-12 ft. for cattle to access bunks.

4. Ensure proper weighing and mixing of feed ingredients, as well as consistent feeding times.

5. Prior to the first feeding, evaluate and record feed consumption for each bunk. Base decisions to add or reduce feed call on feed consumption records for the last five days.

6. Clean feed bunks and waterers frequently, feed quality ingredients and avoid offering spoiled or damaged feed.

7. Maintain a close working relationship with a nutritionist to monitor rations, ingredient moisture and quality.

“You have to pay attention to your cattle and know what’s going on in the pen,” Andersen said. “Look for unusual changes in feed consumption, and monitor manure for loose, watery stools — a sign of acidosis. If things are abnormal in the pen, it’s time to start asking what’s wrong.”

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