Opportunity Lot Feeding
Rick Seirer, Rutherglen
An opportunity feedlot is a feedlot that does not operate all year. It is generally used to fatten stock during periods when store prices are low and fat prices are high.
Will it be profitable?
Lotfeeding of beef cattle can be a way to make or lose money. It is vital to carefully budget the lotfeeding exercise before starting, to be certain that it will be profitable.
The important factors in the budget are:
- value of cattle at start of lotfeeding
- value of cattle at end of lotfeeding
- cost of feed eaten during lotfeeding
- health costs (drench, vaccine, growth implant, etc)
- feeding costs (labour, equipment, depreciation).
Some figures as a guide are:
- lotfed cattle eat about 2.6-2.8% of their bodyweight daily as feed (a 200 kg beast eats 5 kg; a 300 kg beast eats 7.5 kg etc.)
- with careful lotfeeding cattle gain at from 1.2 to 1.5 kg a day
- cattle require from 60 to 100 days to fatten in a feedlot, depending on their initial condition.
In round figures, a 250 kg steer fed for 100 days might gain from 100 to 120 kg liveweight and eat about 800 kg of feed. Obviously there needs to be a big margin between the value of the cattle at the start and finish of the lotfeeding. Furthermore, some type of forward selling system will help guarantee profitability.
Site, facilities, equipment
The main factors to consider in siting the opportunity feedlot include access for moving cattle in and out of the feedlot, and also for the daily feeding of the cattle. The site should be well-drained and sheltered from prevailing winds. Shade can be an advantage. A reliable supply of good quality water is essential. The feedlot should be securely enclosed with good fencing or rails. The feed troughs should be positioned outside the enclosure so that the cattle eat by reaching through an opening in the fence (see Figure 1). There needs to be 400 - 600 mm of trough space per beast.
It is a good idea to make the "neck" cable or board above the trough adjustable to cater for different classes and sizes of cattle. This can be achieved by having holes at various heights in the posts through which the cable is threaded, or a clamp holding the cable on each post, which can be raised or lowered.
Liveweight scales are essential in lotfeeding. Because of the cost of feeding cattle it is important that a check be kept to ensure they are gaining weight at the expected rate.
For feed preparation, the ideal equipment has the capacity to roll grain, chop roughage, mix these ingredients and some minerals together, and then feed the mixture out to the cattle. There are various machines available that do some or all of these jobs.
Feeds and feeding
Any feedlot ration should contain roughage (hay or silage), grain and minerals. The usual procedure is to start the cattle on roughage only for two days. The proportion of grain in the ration is then gradually increased over a number of days. The percentage of grain fed can be increased by 5% every two days. Common practice is to increase the grain level to about 40 or 50% of the ration, and hold at that level for a few weeks. Then increase the grain again to 70 or 80% for the finishing phase.
It is important to observe the cattle closely as the grain level is increased. If there are any signs of digestive problems, the grain level should be held constant or even decreased. Severely affected cattle should be taken to a separate area and fed roughage only. Barley is the best grain for lotfeeding cattle, but wheat, triticale, sorghum, maize, lupins and oats can be used. Oats is not an ideal grain on its own for fattening cattle, but can be used with any of the other grains.
Hay or silage can be used as the roughage source. Silage is ideal because it improves the palatability of the ration. If hay and grain are used, the addition of some water can reduce the dustiness of feed and improve overall palatability. Probably 5% water (5 litres of water per 100 kg of feed), sprayed in when mixing, will be enough. A dry matter content of 80% for the feed lot ration is ideal. In some cases, mixtures of barley and lucerne hay can cause cattle to bloat, so that combination should be avoided.
Poor quality roughage, such as straw, can provide up to half of the roughage component of the ration.
There are commercial mineral/vitamin premixes available for adding to feedlot rations. These may contain calcium, urea, sulphur, salt and various trace minerals and vitamins (or just the trace minerals and vitamins). They are usually included at 1 to 5% of the total ration.
To achieve satisfactory growth rates, the ration should have an overall level of 13% crude protein. If the roughage and/or grain used is low in protein (say the roughage has less than 8% and the grain less than 11% crude protein), then some natural protein should be included in the ration. Lupins, peas, sunflower meal, safflower meal, linseed meal, and soybean meal can be used probably at about 5% of the total ration.
Growth promotants and rumen manipulators
There are two types of chemicals available that are well worth using in lotfeeding. Growth implants or growth promotants (for example, Ralgro) are one type; on average they enable cattle to grow 10 - 20% more quickly in feedlots. Rumen manipulators (for example, Rumensin, Posistac, Bonatec) are another group of chemicals that, when added to the feed, enable the cattle to use it more efficiently. On average they improve the efficiency of feed conversion by 10%.
| Use this ration if protein content of hay roughage is adequate|
| Use this ration if protein content of hay/roughage is inadequate|
|*Minerals/vitamins to be used in rations|
|Per cent of ration|
Commercial trace minerals and vitamins
Table 1. Examples of feedlot rations
The value of processing and mixing feeds
It is possible to successfully fatten cattle simply by feeding them unchopped (long) hay and unprocessed (whole) grain. However, the results from such a system are usually not very satisfactory. If possible the roughage should be chopped and the grain coarsely rolled. Rolling improves the digestibility of barley, wheat, sorghum and triticale by 25% and oats by 5%.
For best results the feed should be well mixed, palatable and balanced for the important minerals as well as protein.
McKeirnan, W.A., Johnson, B., and Smith, G.H., Opportunity lotfeeding of beef cattle, Agmedia, Australia, 1992.
This publication is available from the DEPI Bookshop, 8 Nicholson street, East Melbourne 3001.