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How does winter feedlot cleaning affect calf performance?
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How does winter feedlot cleaning affect calf performance?

Winter feedlot cleaning

Most feedlot operators at one time or another have wondered if cleaning their feedlot during the winter makes a difference in the performance of the cattle in the feedlot. In an attempt to answer that question, Bryan Neville, animal scientist at the Carrington Research Extension Center (N.D.), and graduate student, Rebecca Moore, performed a study that was designed to illustrate the impact of feedlot cleaning on finishing steers in the feedlot.

This study was conducted during the 2018-19 winter and involved the calves that were enrolled in the Dakota Feeder Calf Show project.

“Calves, such as those in the Dakota Feeder Calf Show, serve several purposes,” Neville explained. “We are able to offer the owner of those calves information in terms of animal gain and carcass quality, and for us, as a research center, we have animals that allow us to accomplish different research objectives, which in this case was looking at what impact cleaning pens during the feeding period during the winter had on animal performance, and at the end of the day, carcass quality.”

But the results of this first study indicated feedlot performance wasn’t improved. Instead, it showed an improvement in marbling score and carcass quality.

The results ran contrary to the general belief that feedlot cleaning during the winter months would improve animal performance. This was based on the premise that less energy would be expended by the animal’s movement in the feedlot, reducing the energy used to maintain body temperature.

It was decided to study the feedlot cleaning issue, since it is a widely adopted routine in Canadian feedlots, Neville noted. “We wanted to see if that practice would have a positive benefit in this region.”

The study broke the amount of pen cleaning into three different treatments : 1) a control with no cleaning; 2) full cleaning where the entire pen was cleaned twice during the survey; and 3) apron cleaning where only the bunk aprons were clean, which was about a 10-foot area.

This research was performed with 156 steers with an average weight of 626 pounds, and they were randomly assigned in groups of 13 in one of 12 pens. This resulted in each pen stocked at a similar density, with approximately 290 square feet of pen for each animal. Four pens were assigned to each treatment.

The pens or aprons were cleaned on approximately 53-day intervals. The first cleaning took place around Christmas time and second around the first of March. During the study, cattle were provided fresh bedding weekly in all pens. This resulted in about 5.5 pounds per head per day of straw used during the length of the study.

All calves were weighted on two consecutive days at the start of the trial and were given a growth promotant implant at the beginning and we re-implanted 56 days later.

The calves were started out with a moderate-roughage diet and were adopted to a high-concentrate diet. The final finishing ration was 57.7 percent corn, 23.5 percent modified distillers grain, 5 percent straw, 11 percent silage, 1.3 percent calcium carbonate and 1.5 percent supplement. The steers were on feed for 195 days and feed was provided to target clean bunks the morning prior to feeding.

At the end of the feeding period, the steers were again weighed on two consecutive days and shipped to a commercial slaughter, where slaughter data was collected for each steer.

The results of the study indicated no influence on final body weight, average daily gain, or dry matter intake, and feed efficiency was noticed from pen cleaning. No impact was also found on things such as carcass weight, ribeye area, back fat and yield grade of the carcass. However, they did notice a tendency for greater marbling score and quality grade in the carcasses raised in the pens with the pen cleaning treatments.

Neville summarized that the reason for not having the difference in feedlot performance may been due to the relatively light stocking density of the pens, the adequate bedding used in each pen and the lack of separation of pen conditions, which means the relatively small pens limited the amount of movement the steers had to make.

He noted that future research evaluating the stocking density of the pens and cleaning treatment may result in a better understanding of the benefits of feedlot pen cleaning. Such information will be helpful to feedlot producers as they seek to improve feedlot performance and efficiency. However, since the research projects conducted with these cattle must be planned in advance, no additional research work on this particular subject is scheduled at this time for the Carrington REC.

More details on this project and tables listing the various characteristics and how they varied with each pen cleaning treatment can be found on the Carrington REC website under “Annual Reports.”

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