Home / Livestock / Cattle / Beef / Long live the farmer feedlot

Long live the farmer feedlot

Agriculture.com Staff 01/10/2008 @ 1:53pm

Farmer feedlots may not be as plentiful as they once were, but before you write the obituary, visit the farm of Keith and Julie Van Waardhuizen, Oskaloosa, Iowa. Using mostly homegrown feedstuffs and corn milling coproducts, they profitably finish 1,000 cattle a year.

About 100 head come from their own cow herd, the rest through an order buyer. The diverse farm also custom-finishes hogs and grows corn, soybeans, alfalfa and grass hay.

The feedlot ration includes whole shelled corn, liquid protein, ground cornstalks, and wet corn gluten delivered by semi every few days from a syrup mill. The gluten makes up about 50% of the feedlot ration by weight. Because of the moisture, Keith says the final mixed ration feeds a little like silage.

"Most of our hay goes to the cow herd. Cornstalks are our next cheapest source of roughage and make up 3% of the feedlot ration," he says.

An intense accounting system makes the cattle pay for feed, interest, yardage (28 cents per day), vet-medicine, and a chute charge of $1 per head before profit or loss is figured.

Keith and Julie aim for feedlot gains of 3-plus pounds per day, at 6 pounds of feed per pound of gain. Here are their tips for an efficient farm feedlot.

  1. Collect the data

    Arriving calves get an electronic ear tag -- a convenient way to track individual data. At initial processing, data is keyed into computer software that is compatible with the tag and electronic scale, including date, ranch, weight, and health.

    This makes it easier to track feedlot performance and carcass data. Through an Iowa Cattlemens Association program, it costs $2 to $3 per head to get carcass data back.
  2. Know the cattle

    The individual performance data helps acquire good cattle. Keith and Julie identify the genetics and ranches providing the most profitable cattle, and they buy more of them. They buy calves at 550 to 650 pounds, and the heavier ones tend to be healthier and easier to start.
  3. Track gains, efficiency

    The ear tags make it easy to track rate of gain and feed efficiency, and to troubleshoot problems. "We use the information to make sure [our ration and bunk-management practices] are letting us achieve maximum rate of gain," Keith says.
  4. Monitor feed quality

    A nutritionist formulates the rations and samples feed.

    "Every so often we check the moisture and protein in a bin of corn and in the cornstalks," says Keith. "We rely on what the processor tells us about the nutritive value of the wet gluten, but we check it ourselves two or three times a year. Once in a while a load will be wetter than usual, and the cattle will change their feed intake. If we catch it, we can adjust for it."
  5. Watch the bunks

    "We score the bunks every morning on a 0-to-5 scale [0 is licked clean]," says Keith. "We like to see them empty with just a few kernels of corn left. That means they are getting just the right amount. If a bunk is slick clean and the cattle run up to the feed wagon, we need to increase the feed."

    Keith says feeding and closely observing cattle twice a day are about his most important chores. "It's the advantage I have over the big commercial lots," he claims. "I immediately know who's coming up to the bunk and who isn't."
  6. Bed the pens

    Cattle are more comfortable and perform better with bedding. "It takes less energy for them to stay warm, and we get a better rate of gain," Keith says. He uses a bale processor to blow shredded cornstalks in a thin layer on the feeding apron.
  7. Spread the risk

    Several groups of calves are brought in throughout the year to spread out the marketing of fed cattle. This reduces the risk posed by periodic downswings in price.
  8. Invest wisely in machines

    Processing corn fed to cattle improves rate of gain but not enough to offset the cost. "We simply don't feed enough cattle to justify the cost of a roller mill," says Keith.

Farmer feedlots may not be as plentiful as they once were, but before you write the obituary, visit the farm of Keith and Julie Van Waardhuizen, Oskaloosa, Iowa. Using mostly homegrown feedstuffs and corn milling coproducts, they profitably finish 1,000 cattle a year.

CancelPost Comment
MORE FROM AGRICULTURE.COM STAFF more +

Farm and ranch risk management resources By: 07/07/2010 @ 9:10am Government resources USDA Risk Management Agency Download free insurance program and…

Major types of crop insurance policies By: 07/07/2010 @ 9:10am Crop insurance for major field crops comes in two types: yield-based coverage that pays an…

Marketing 101 - Are options the right tool… By: 07/07/2010 @ 9:10am "If you are looking for a low risk way to protect yourself against prices moving either higher or…

MEDIA CENTERmore +
This container should display a .swf file. If not, you may need to upgrade your Flash player.
Case IH Magnum Rowtrac