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Post operator’s guide to feedlotting

This part of the beef enterprise operations is quite often known as ‘Pen Feeding’ or even ‘Zero Grazing’. It is the finals operation before slaughtering and is carried out to:

  1. Get cattle to slaughter in a finished condition
  2. To get animals to slaughter faster and normally at a young age
  3. To get cattle to slaughter at a heavy weight
  4. To take advantage of better or higher prices for animals, which are younger, than the traditional 4 year old oxen
  5. It can also be used as a management tool to reduce grazing pressure on the range and make more grass available to more productive animals in time of greater need i.e. during drought situations.

Your feed pen should be built against the Kgotla and have 12 square meters per animal. This space can be changed to as low as 8 square meters per animal, but the space is determined by the average size of the animal you want to fee. It is therefore safer to work in 10 to 12 square meters per animal when you start to work on the size of your feed pen. The other important points to remember is adequate water supply, and food supply. To have a successful feedlot, one must have safe water supply and enough feed for the animals to bed fed EVERYDAY. Feedlot animals will drink between 50 – 60 liters of water per day and eat an average of 11 kgs per day over a period or 2.5 to 3 % of their live body weight per day. This gives you an idea of how much forward planning has to take place before you start to feed your animals.

To feedlot an animal is expensive and careful thought and planning must be undertaken before one starts the operation. Should you be unsure of what to do, ask for advice!

The current BMC price schedule has made the option of pen feeding your cattle for an exciting proposition with the potential of make good money. The world market is leaning towards a leaner cut of beef for health reasons while at the same time, the younger animal is being preferred to feed at it is financially better to do so. Cattlemen and women, it is now important to give thought to what breed you are farming with and what type of operation  you are running. Ask yourself the question, “Does the breed or current operation suit the market I am aiming to sell into and is my current breed able to maximize my potential financial returns?”

In many respects, the post operator can keep his operation simple and easy while the commercial operator has many more matters to consider. This article is primarily for the post operator and so will keep the message at low key.

The first thing you need us a good strong Kgotla, from where the animals can not break out. Secondly, ensure you are going to be able to supply enough water on a daily basis. Thirdly, you must invest in a scale (if you haven’t already got one). If you cannot afford a scale, form a syndicate and buy one, then share its use among yourselves. Remember you just simply cannot farm livestock successfully without a scale. The fourth assumption is that your animals are weighing in the region of 270 to 300 kgs and the animals would be 15 to 16 months old at the time you plan to start feeding. This is a very good age for the feedlot, as it will ensure the fed would still be milk tooth and at worst 2 teeth by slaughter time, and therefore still able to qualify for super prime grade. Remember the lighter the animal into the feedlot, the longer it is going to take to reach optimum slaughter live-weight which is between 415 to 450 kgs. This will give you a carcass weight of CDM (cold dressed mass) 220 kgs and above. The BMC pays the producer on CDM weight and not live-weight. The next important matter you have to consider is what breed of animal you have. There are some breeds which simply do not perform to the level of other breeds in a feedlot situation. The purer your Boss Indicus animal, most times would mean that your ration should be one which has higher roughage content in it, while the Bos Taurus animal most times would be able to handle a ration which is higher in energy and has little roughage in it. The Taurus animal would finish faster in the feedlot than the Indicus animal, but then the cross of the two would generally finish somewhere in between but at a heavier weight. The European Taurus breeds – Simmental, Charolais, Limousine, Romagnola and Belgium Blue – generally tend to be later maturing and leaner than the British Taurus breeds – Hereford, Angus, Shorthorn and Sussex – which are susceptible to getting over-fat resulting in down-grading of your carcass.

Post operators and small-scale farmers, the best time for you to pen-feed your animals, is during the dry months of the year. You then do not have to contend with mud in your feedlot and the animals will be much more comfortable resulting in better performance. The disposal of the dry manure is also much easier as well. When you have finished your feeding, all your simply have to do is collect the dry manure and spread it on the surrounding veldt. Do not make it too thick, but rather the grass must protrude through your manure spread. In this way you will be helping to improve your own natural pastures by making the soil more fertile and friable. All your herdman needs is a wheelbarrow and shovel and many square meters per day can be covered. It also keeps them busy, instead of sleeping in the shade.

Management Induction:

In any enterprise there has to be a start point and for a feedlot operation, this is it.

There are certain operations which just have to be carried out in order to ensure success. The under mentioned points are the ones to follow:

  1. Weigh each animal. It is important to get a start weight in order to be able to measure the individual’s weigh gain and ultimately the performance. This is absolutely vital in ensuring a financially viable operation.
  2. Give each animal a number. This is to help keep track of the animal to be able to identify easily. The easiest way is to put a tag into the ear with a number written onto it.
  3. Dose each animal for roundworms and tapeworms. This is important as worms eat nutrients which are meant for the animals. A lack of nutrients means that the animal does not perform at optimum levels and so you lose money by having to feed more fed than what is necessary. Tapeworms are measles in animals and they can get the carcass detained or even condemned and you, the produce lose money.
  4. Vaccinate all the animals for Quarter Evil (Blackleg or Blackquater), pasterella, and BVD/IBR. These would be the three main disease problems in a small feedlot. It is important to keep the death rate to a bare minimum and vaccinating is one way to help reduce death rate.
  5. Dip all the animals. It is very important to put a clean animal into the feedpen. Not only does it help reduce the tick borne disease problem, but it ensures that there are no parasites sucking blood and thereby reducing the performance of the animals. Dipping will generally control all the ticks, tampans, and lice. Some modern dips will also control the flies. Remember one adult engorged blue tick (one host tick), will have sucked up to 1 litre of blood during the time spent on the animal which is between 22 and 38 days. A pour-on dip is the type recommended as it is easy to use, requires no water and has a longer residual effect than the spray or plunge dip type. FMB

Ralph Ferreria – Feedlot expert and consultant

Contact: 71924966


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