I know I’m not alone in my ongoing struggle to balance a limited amount of time with short-term tasks, long-term projects, continuing education, networking, and just finding time to think! But a recent road trip at least gave me opportunity to catch up on my overgrown reading pile, which turned out to contain several research articles I would like to share here.
Oklahoma State researchers compared four distinct wintering options for fall-weaned stocker steers: dormant winter range with 2 ¼ lb/day of a 40%-protein supplement, winter range with a corn-cottonseed meal based supplement (24% protein) fed daily at 1% body weight (roughly 2 lb of CSM and 4 lb of corn), wheat pasture grazed at a heavy stocking rate, and wheat pasture grazed at a low stocking rate. The dormant range was very low quality forage, running no more than 5% protein and about 80% NDF. Wheat pasture steers then went straight to a finishing program, while range treatments remained on spring/summer grass prior to going to the feedlot. Treatments were repeated for two years.
Steers from the first year were finished to a similar age, while those from the second year were kept on feed until their treatment group was determined to have reached a set weight. Both intermediate and final carcass measurements were taken, as well as weight gains.
Grazing gains followed expected patterns: dormant grass and protein, about ½ lb per day the first year, and 1 lb the second; dormant grass plus corn and CSM, 1.1 to 1.3 lb/day; heavily stocked wheat pasture, 1.4 to 1.8 lb/day; low-stocked and rotated wheat pasture 3 lb.
When these calves were fed to a common age, the high density wheat pasture calves actually had the most backfat and smallest loin muscle area, while all others were similar. When fed to a common weight, the steers that had grazed dormant pasture plus protein had lower backfat thickness and tended to have greater marbling scores.
This data would suggest that—depending on management goals, selling point, and marketing strategy—each of these practices may be a valid option for stocker producers.
I read two recent papers dealing with heifer development. They build on other work that has been done, much of it through the University of Nebraska, that has taken a hard look at the generally accepted target of having heifers weigh at least 65% of their mature weight by the start of their first breeding season. The relevant question is whether feeding these young females for a slower rate of gain (with the affiliated lower feed costs) can still result in acceptable reproductive performance.