Jump-start Immunity

October 2, 2009 07:00 PM

When you think of boosting animal immunity, you may think of vaccines. These products are important to an effective receiving program; however, having animals on a good plan of nutrition is critical to a vaccine's effectiveness.

When designing a nutrition program, factor in management experience and facility limitations, says Keith Lusby, animal scientist at the University of Arkansas. "Many operations have limited options, and compromises must be made between ideal nutritional programs and feasible programs.”

The challenge is to provide highly palatable feeds that stimulate intake, provide nutrients, reduce stress and permit calves to overcome disease challenges.

Diets fed at 45 to 60 days of receiving are typical, and a 60% concentrate level is an optimal threshold for 500 lb. to 600 lb. stockers, says David Lalman, University of Oklahoma Extension beef specialist.

In 2008, researchers found that 600-lb. steers on diets with 60% or greater concentrate increased feed intake, average daily gain and, potentially, feed efficiency. Too much concentrate with free-choice intake, however, led to higher morbidity rates. They also found an exception for cattle less than 300 lb.

Protein and energy requirements are high for lightweight, 300-lb. calves, so roughage levels should be kept relatively low, Lusby says.

"For cattle 400 lb. or more, the starting point for a ration should contain about 25% protein and be fed at a rate of 2 lb. to 4 lb. per day.” He advises producers to consult a nutritionist or Extension specialist and use ingredients that are economically viable in their area.

DDG option. If you have access to economical dried distillers' grains (DDGs), consider them for your receiving ration. Sara Winterholler, a former graduate student at Oklahoma State University, developed a simple formula to determine how much DDGs to feed to stockers without limiting rates of gain in pasture.

In her research, feeding 1.4% of an animal's body weight of DDGs improved rate of gain without limiting gains once cattle were turned out on grass or wheat. Cattle also had free-choice prairie hay (4.8% CP, 68.8% NDF, 56% TDN). For cattle continuing on feed, the economic threshold is not as critical.

"Keep in mind that if you get carried away and feed too well during receiving, the cattle will not gain as well when turned out on pasture,” Lalman says. "You end up giving up the more economical pasture gains for feed gains.” BT

To contact Kim Watson-Potts, e-mail

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