Ruminant nutritionists Ki C. Fanning, PhD, PAS, and Jeremy Martin, PhD, Great Plains Livestock Consulting, Inc., Eagle, Neb., say two things that we cannot control are the weather and the price of cattle; however, the following are 10 things that we can control to improve feedlot profitability.

  1. Weather does affect feed intake of cattle; therefore, if you adjust daily pen intakes taking into account the affect of weather conditions you may be able to prevent getting too far ahead or behind the cattle (i.e. if the temperature has been in the high 30’s for the last five days and is expected to jump up to the 70’s tomorrow you may want to pull a pound per head of feed out in anticipation of reductions in intake.
  2. Keeping the pens scraped and in condition to minimize mud will minimize the energy losses due to the energy expended walking through the mud and the intakes of cattle will be increased if it is easier to get to the feed bunk.
  3. Muscle (meat) is mostly made up of water. Water is also a major mechanism for cooling during the summer. Feed intake (dry matter) is positively correlated to water intake, in other words, if you increase water intake you increase feed intake. Clean fresh water is consumed at higher rates than dirty and/or stagnant water.
  4. Hay length in a TMR is the most common mistake we see made in the feedlot industry. Hay longer than the distance between a bovine’s nostrils can be sorted; therefore the most aggressive cattle will be eating a higher concentrate diet (higher energy) than expected and the timid cattle will be eating a diet higher in forage diet (lower energy) than expected. Worse yet, bloats, founders, erratic intakes, and digestive deads can result.
  5. When building housing for confined cattle the objective is to keep the cattle out of the mud and dry hided. This will maximize the amount of energy that the animal will convert to tissue as opposed to trudging through mud and staying warm from wet hides. DO NOT build the building to keep the cattle warm such as high walls that are permanent. This will also keep the cattle warm in the summer. Additionally, by blocking the air flow the bedding stays wetter.
  6. Feeding cattle too long is rarely profitable. At the end of the feeding period, gain and efficiency of gain are reduced. Make sure you have a projected harvest date for each lot and try to abide by those projections.
  7. Starting cattle on feed is an art and learning this art can be tricky, but is important. The appropriate strategy will depend on the cattle, their previous history, and their future. While we generally want to be fairly aggressive about getting cattle on feed, there are exceptions. In some situations, starting cattle more slowly can help them perform better on feed. Consult your nutritionist for specific recommendations.
  8. Most of the profit in cattle feeding is made when cattle are bought or sold. Control all the risk you can by avoiding cattle that are already sick when they are bought. Although some health problems are unavoidable, cattle should not be sick coming off the truck. If they are, you need to re-evaluate your buying process.
  9. Monitor implant programs closely. When cattle arrive at the feedlot, determine what implant strategy will be employed and make sure cattle receive a traditional implant every 80 to 100 days, depending on the implant. Longer-term implants are available, and may be appropriate for certain cattle.
  10. Take advantage of programs that offer a good return on investment. Source and age verified cattle, NHTC cattle, and natural cattle can be profitable if conditions are right and incoming cost is kept under control. Be aware of these opportunities so you can capitalize on them when the time is right.