Cattle Today

Cattle Today

cattle today (10630 bytes)

by: Stephen B. Blezinger

Part 2

In the last issue we began exploring some of the basics behind the development of a quality nutritional program for show cattle. You'll recall that we discussed many nutritional basics not just as they apply to animals on the show circuit but to cattle in general. Remember that show cattle are no different from other cattle in terms of relative nutritional demands with the exception that they are probably better conditioned than the average beef animal and that substantially more dollars are spent to get them to any given point of their production life.

Some Basic Management

Let's discuss some basic management issues before we get specific about feeds. Considering the value of many show cattle, it is prudent to be more careful and attentive to your facilities, management styles, etc. It is also important to manage feeding schedules closely as well.


The barn or shed where the cattle are kept does not need to be elaborate. Each calf needs about 75 square feet of shelter. This is assuming the feed and water troughs are outside of the shelter. If so, less shelter space is necessary. The shelter also needs to be well ventilated and provide adequate, clean bedding. Additionally it is helpful to have ready access to electricity for fans or other electrical tools such as clippers, blowers, etc.

Overall you want plenty of exercise room for the calves. While this varies somewhat and will be contingent on your resources, a 100 x 200-feet lot is enough exercise space for two calves. You can get by with less if you are exercising them yourself (walking) regularly. Pens should be on slope to provide good drainage. The last thing you want is for calves to have to fight a lot of mud. Mud is very counterproductive to weight gain and feed efficiency. It also makes it very difficult to keep animals reasonably clean. This is a major issue on white or light colored cattle. It is a very good idea for the edge of the roof that leads into the pen, if it is down-sloped into the pen, to have a gutter to drain water away from the pens and prevent a mud hole right at the edge of the barn. Also, the entire area should be free of rocks, junk, exposed nails or screws or sharp edges. Fences should be of wood boards, metal runners, cable or woven fence wire. Avoid barbed wire if at all possible. Finally, the pen should provide easy access to catch pens and a head gate or squeeze chute.

Feeding and feed storage areas should be clean obstacle-free. The feed trough should be 6 to 8 inches deep, 12 inches wide and 20 to 24 inches long for each calf that will be eating. The top of the feed trough should be 12 to 20 inches from the ground, depending on the size of the calf. Cattle should not be fed at troughs excessively high since this can create an awkward position for cattle to eat in and may reduce intake. It's probably also best for cattle not to be fed at ground level (a trough on the ground) since contamination of feed with dirt, feces and urine is more likely. Some feeders believe that feeding cattle too high or too low may cause structural problems as well.

Bunk Management

The total amount of feed fed per day should be divided into at least two meals per day. Feed early in the morning and evening, say at approximately at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Try to stick to your time schedule as closely as possible, even at the show. Feed approximately half their daily allowance of feed in the morning and the other half in the evening. During particularly hot weather, cattle may not feel like eating much during the day. The daily feed allotment can be changed to approximately 40 percent of the feed fed in the morning and 60 percent in the evening if daytime feed intake is a problem. Some cattle are more difficult to keep on feed than others. In many cases this can be related to bunk management, provision of clean, fresh water and at least some good quality hay.

Clean out old feed or manure found in the feed bunk prior to feeding. Feed should not be allowed to accumulate from feeding to feeding since this can result in spoilage and mold growth. Dry matter intake and performance will decline if this is allowed to occur for very long. In hot, humid environments, feed can mold in a very short period of time, especially if it contains a higher moisture ingredient such as steam rolled or flaked corn. Be careful if large accumulations of feed occur because this indicates a decrease in feed intake. If a large amount of feed is seen to accumulate, remove this old feed from the trough and dispose of it. At the next feeding, be sure to reduce the amount by a pound or two and gradually begin to increase the amount provided again. Never increase the amount of feed provided at a given feeding by more than one pound (two pounds per day). If too much feed is provided after cattle have backed off for a day or two, they may come back to the bunk hungry and engorge themselves on the new, fresh feed. This can cause serious side-effects such as acidosis or bloat. The other scenario that may occur is the cattle will engorge themselves on the fresh feed in a short amount of time and "slick" or empty the bunk and not consume the next batch of feed you provide.

As mentioned above clean, fresh water should be available at all times. This is exteremely important to the health of the animal. Any animal can live for several days without feed. Lack of access to water can, especially in hot weather, cause serious metabolic problems in a short period of time, hours in some cases. Feed intake is very closely associated with how much water they consume. Water sources should be cleaned at least weekly. Algae should not be allowed to accumulate.

What to Feed

This is where the can of worms REALLY gets opened up! The number of quality show feeds out there is immense and each will have someone that will swear by it. This article will not discuss specific products mainly because we can't address them all in this format.

Show cattle feeders have a couple of options. One is for them to use commercial feed products available from area manufacturers. Most areas will have at least two or three options (different feed company offerings). Your best bet will be to talk to your local feed suppliers, extension agents, other producers, etc. to get a feel for what is working the best and what will best fit your program. Remember that there are no perfect products and there are no silver bullets. Some commercial show feeds will definitely “fit the bill” better than others and some research on your part will help determine what those may be.

A second option is for feeders to mix their own feed. This is not uncommon among many professional cattle fitters and show people. Those that have a lot of experience in this area commonly will make up their own blends using a mixing device of some type and keeping an inventory of various ingredients such as corn chops, oats, protein pellets, mineral and vitamin premixes and so on. While this CAN be more cost effective it is not necessarily so. It can also provide more versatility but it will definitely take more time. For anyone not terribly experienced in feeding show cattle this is probably not the path to follow.

Let's talk about some feed components:

Grains and Concentrates: An animal that is gaining weight at a moderate rate (two to three lbs. per head per day) needs about 1.5 percent of their body weight in grains and concentrates per day to provide the required energy to support those gains. Rapidly growing cattle (3 lbs +), such as steers and bulls can be safely fed up to 2.0-2.25 percent of their weight in grain and concentrate mixes. Very high grain diets (over 2.75 percent of body weight) can be detrimental for hair growth and can cause digestive upsets if not very carefully monitored. Corn, oats, barley, and sometimes milo and wheat are the main energy sources. Corn and oats are the most widely used in show diets and are normally processed in some way. Corn is normally cracked, crimped or steam rolled. Oats are normally crimped or steam rolled but can be fed whole. Oats are thought to be very useful because they carry a combination of protein, energy (from starch) and fiber. They provide for excellent animal growth with out the deposition excessive amounts of fat. Barley is similar to oats in that it also carries a combination of protein, energy and fiber but WILL tend to deposit fat more readily.

Proteins: Soybean meal and cottonseed meal are the most commonly used protein sources. Other protein sources include corn gluten feed, corn gluten meal, linseed meal, canola meal and sunflower meal. Alfalfa meal or alfalfa pellets are also commonly used sources of protein in show cattle feeds. Commercial protein supplements are also common in commercial feeds and will typically carry minerals, vitamins and possibly medications or other additives. In most cases, natural protein sources are preferred over those containing non-protein nitrogen such as urea or biuret for show cattle mixes although these ingredients are fine if used carefully.

Minerals: The minerals needed include calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Show steers rarely need phosphorus but an added calcium source should be considered. A suitable calcium source is feed-grade limestone. Remember that a minimum calcium to phosphorus ratio is 1.2:1 but 2:1 or 3:1 are preferable. The higher ratios might be needed when feeding fat sources such as vegetable oil (fat can interfere with calcium absorption). Trace minerals need to be added to balance this portion of the ration and organic sources are often quite useful.

Vitamins: The major vitamin requirement in the feed is for Vitamin A. Normally vitamin supplements are provided in a vitamin A-D-E complex. Using high quality feeds can reduce some of the concern about the other vitamins. Make sure that cattle receive 20,000 to 30,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A per head daily. Vitamin D is not a critical since cattle which are exposed to sunlight manufacture most of the needed Vitamin D in their skin. Vitamin E is becoming more popular since it appears to have significant benefits on hair coat quality and overall animal health. Finally, it is often beneficial to add B-Vitamins to show cattle feeds especially when feeding of grains is at a very high level and roughage intake is minimized to promote rapid gains.

Molasses and other additives: Many rations will contain molasses. Molasses or a molasses blend added at 6 to 10 percent of the feed may be added to increase the palatability of a ration and reduce dust problems. Water can be added to the molasses to improve it's mixing characteristics. Liquid products, if added by the feeder, should be added just before feeding or only mix up enough for that day. The goal is to keep the feed fresh, especially during hot weather and not cause a mold problem. Other additives that are useful may include:

• Yeast – stimulate intake and decrease digestive upset.

• Fats – dry fats, vegetable oil. Very concentrated source of energy. Can stimulate gains and finish on cattle requiring something “extra.”

• Organic trace minerals such as Zinc, Copper or Selenium – improve performance and stimulate health

• Rumensin or Bovatec – ionophores which improve performance and increase feed efficiency. These will also reduce digestive upsets.

• CTC, OTC – Antibiotics that can help offset sickness in stressed cattle.

Some General Feeding Guidelines

Feeds should be of good texture, meaning a nice mixture of particle sizes and as little exceptionally fine material as possible. Dusty or moldy feed should not be used. Coughing can sometimes be an indication of dusty feeds. If the problem persists, consider feeding steam flaked or steam rolled grain. Any processing done should not make the grain portion of the feed too fine.

One of the most important aspects of feeding animals is how much they eat. Therefore, scales which you can use to weigh the feed you are giving them are very useful. This is especially important if you are mixing your own feed. Many people feed their cattle based on the volume in a coffee can or a five-gallon bucket. Feeds can vary drastically and most people are pretty poor judges of weight. Weighing out the amount you are feeding or need to feed is critical. Also, keep a log of feed intake. Keeping a calendar by your feed storage area where you write down the amounts fed can be extremely helpful!

Feed at least four to five pounds of hay daily. Feeding high quality alfalfa may promote diarrhea since it is high in protein and generally quite digestible. Good quality grass hay will be a better choice or blend two pounds of alfalfa with two to three pounds of grass hay. Wheat bran or dried beet pulp (shredded is better than pellets) are also good feeds for adding bulk to a diet. However neither should be fed at over 20 percent of the diet. If the animal's belly appears to be becoming too large, reduce the bulk in the diet. Cattle should, however, carry some belly at home to insure adequate growth.

Changing Feeds. Your feed company may offer a series of feed products to use as the calf grows. Initially you may want to use a “starter feed which is higher in protein, a little higher in fiber and higher in minerals and vitamins to get the calf off to a good start and to feed the younger calf more correctly for it's stage of development. After the calf is up on feed, and eating well you may need to switch to a grower which “grows” the animal, promoting muscle and bone development without depositing a lot of premature fat. This is very important in heifers. Finally, a calf should be moved up to a “finisher” which is higher in energy and will promote gains and a look of finish or fat deposition. While most judges do not want an excessively fat animal they do want one that is carrying an appropriate level of finish or “fatness.” Ideally, you will want to work with someone knowledgeable in cattle nutrition to develop a specific diet for your calf with your available feeds. When changing from one feed to another, do so over several days (three to four) and by mixing the current feed with the one you are wanting to move up to. You'll want to mix this at a 50:50 ration during this period.

Holding Cattle. This is always a challenge and since different livestock shows occur at different times of year, having a calf in exactly the right condition at all times can be difficult. A common comment and question asked is, "My steer is done and the show is not for another 30 day. How can I hold my steer's weight and finish?" Unfortunately, there is not a good answer for this question. Trying to hold a steer can reduce marbling (deposition of fat within the muscle) and increase the incidence of dark cutters (dark color meat caused by stress). As mentioned before, ideally you will want to work with someone knowledgeable of cattle feeding. Estimate what the finished weight of your calf will be. Set up a feeding program that produce body weight gains that match the dates when cattle need to be ready. This is basically done by varying the amount of roughage and grain fed during different periods of the feeding program.

Preparing for the Show and Show Feeding and Management

Four to five days before going to the show, begin tying your calf up while he eats. The next day, tie him, but instead of letting him eat out of the trough, put his feed in the feed pan he will use at the show. Continue to feed the calf out of the feed pan, and water him out of a water bucket. The last two feedings before you leave, reduce the amount of feed to 2/3 the normal amount. This will help him travel better and relieve stress during transport. You can provide the calf with a little more hay at this time to compensate.

Upon arrival it is probably best not to feed and water your animals immediately. Allow them time to rest first, especially if the trip is longer than one to two hours. After some rest time it is usually recommended to allow cattle only 1/2 to 2/3 of their normal feed at their first feeding following arrival. You can gradually increase the amount at each feeding. Many people slightly increase the amount of good dry hay at shows as it keeps them on feed better and also keeps their manure firmer. This makes keeping the animal and stall clean an easier task.

Water should be limited initially so that the animals will not get sick. Do not let them gorge themselves on water although they may be very full. Animals may not drink water which they are not accustomed to. Adding a cup of molasses or 1/2 cup of salt, sugar or Jello per five gallons of water can be considered to offset any unusual taste or odor. Ideally, this should be started five to seven days before you leave for the show so the animal is accustomed to the difference.

It is not uncommon for cattle to go off feed while at a show. If he or she is not eating well, check the following:

• Don't bother him while he eats. Don't comb, brush, etc. while the calf is trying to eat.

• Adjust the rope length. Make sure he has plenty of rope to reach into the feed pan

• Lack of exercise can decrease a calf's appetite, walking the calf can help stimulate appetite.

• Has the feed been changed?

• Is he thirsty?

Other pointers:

• Feed offered but not cleaned up in 30 minutes should be removed.

• Feed pans should be cleaned after each feeding.

• Grain and Concentrate should be fed first and then the hay.

• Some people prefer to feed hay only at night in the tie outs keeping the indoor stall cleaner.

• Water is usually not offered until after the animals have eaten their morning or evening feeding.

• One or two flakes of grass hay are usually laid out in front of the tie-outs so animals can eat during the night.

• Keep on their same feeding schedule as when they were at home


Showing cattle is an exciting, fun and educational process. It also involves a LOT of work both physically and in doing your homework. If starting off it's always best to spend time talking with those folks who are experienced in the process. Ask lots of questions and never assume you know it all no matter how experienced you are. Good Showing!

Dr. Steve Blezinger is and nutritional and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs Texas. He can be reached at 667 CR 4711 Sulphur Springs, TX 75482, by phone at (903) 885-7992 or by e-mail at


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