High feed costs in recent months have made it attractive to "grow” cattle to heavier weights and feed them fewer days than usual, but there are factors to consider.
In a presentation at K-State's Beef Stocker Conference, Michael Dikeman, meat scientist with K-State Research and Extension, says that little research has been done to study the effects of leaving cattle on forage for longer periods and of feeding grain for a shorter period than is typically done in the United States. What studies have been conducted, however, show that marbling can be negatively affected by restricting energy early in an animal's life.
The consequences of feeding cattle less than 100 days, may include:
- Higher fixed costs per unit of weight gained,
- Lower dressing percentage,
- Reduced marbling,
- Yellow fat,
- Less attractive meat color,
- Altered taste and tenderness, and
- Less total output per animal.
Studies show that an alternative some producers are considering – feeding wet distillers grains (DSG) and dry corn – also comes with factors to consider, he says. They include:
- A 40- to 50-percent increase in polyunsaturated fatty acids in meat from cattle fed higher levels of wet DSG from corn,
- More rapid lipid oxidation while meat is on retail display;
- Compromised color stability and a 10- to 50-percent reduction in shelf life, and
- Increased off-flavor intensity ratings (although high dietary Vitamin E can neutralize this).
K-State meat specialist Michael Dikeman outlines possible feeding and management options for heavy feeder cattle. They include:
- Feeding DGS and/or grain for more than 60 days while cattle still are on grass,
- Feeding DGS and/or grain for more than 60 days while cattle still are on grass and following with the cattle's spending 40 to 50 days in the feedlot, or
- Grazing cattle to heavier weights on grass or forage and then feeding DGS and/or grain for more than 100 days.
A large study conducted by K-State researchers found, however, that there were no negative effects on meat quality from feeding cattle steam-flaked corn and 25% dry DSG.
"There are potential advantages to feeding cattle for less than 100 days,” Dikeman says. "There may be more economical weight gains from cattle's ‘harvesting' forage or fed forages. Harvested forage prices have not exactly followed corn prices.”
But, research has shown, he added, that a minimum of 60 days on a high-energy (grain) diet is necessary to avoid yellow fat and to optimize the meat color that shoppers have come to expect.
"Feeding only 60 days is not long enough for a high level of vitamin E to be effective,” the animal scientist adds. "Without high Vitamin E for more than 100 days, meat quality problems could occur.”
Dikeman encourages producers to pre-plan by having a market for cattle before making the decision to feed only 60 to 70 days.
"Know what possible negative consequences there might be for reduced marbling, reduced dressing percent, less-than-white fat, reduced shelf-life of meat color, and off flavors,” he says. "Meat processing companies may be biased against short-fed cattle.”