My youngest daughter is built like a colt. She has always been that way. She arrived four weeks early having obviously decided that there was not enough room in my 5’3” frame to accommodate her long legs…While she is not a big fan of eating (there always seems to be something more interesting to do) she continues to get taller and taller and taller. At age seven, she is one of the tallest children in her grade and stands a full head taller than many of her friends. I laugh that Matt has interjected height into my genetic pool! He laughs that Karyn has excellent feed conversion…
Feed conversion is one of those cattle terms that 15 years ago was not in my vocabulary. It is also one of the most important measurements of efficiency that I have for my animals, and tells me how many pounds of food each one requires to put on one pound of animal weight gain on a dry matter basis. We convert the pounds of feed to a dry matter basis because different types of feed have different amounts of water in them relative to caloric value. In a very simplistic sense, it tells me how many natural resources it takes for my animals to grow and make beef.
There are many things that go into determining how efficient a bovine is. Genetics play a big role, but there are many environmental influences on feed conversion as well. I focus on quality at my cattle feed yard—I buy animals with high quality genetics and I offer quality care to them. This combination allows for my animals to be very efficient converters of feed. I believe that this plays an important role in reducing the environmental footprint of my farm because it reduces the amount of feed resources that I need to sustain my animals and grow great tasting beef.
Let’s take a minute and talk about what defines quality care relative to animal comfort and subsequent feed efficiency…
*Acclimation of cattle into the feed yard. Cattle spend the majority of their lives grazing grass pastures, so the transition from eating grass and living on a pasture to eating out of a feed bunk and living in a dirt-based cattle feed yard pen is an important one. Limiting stress to ensure greater cattle comfort is an important part of good cattle health and resulting feed efficiency. We use a concept called low stress handling to help us create an acclimation plan for our cattle to ensure a smoother transition from a life on pasture to a life in a feed yard.
*Consistent delivery of a balanced blend of quality feed ingredients. My cattle nutritionist develops the blend or ration of feed that my animals receive. My crew and I ensure that this feed is delivered in a consistent fashion to our animals. Breakfast is delivered between 7:00 and 10:00am, and linner (my children’s name for the combination of lunch and dinner that the cattle receive) is delivered between 2:30 and 5:00pm. We track the timing of feed delivery to our animals and try to ensure that each animal is fed within a half hour window for their meals on a day-to-day basis. For example, Calf #718 lived in Pen 17 while he was at my feed yard. His breakfast was delivered between 8:30 and 9:00 every morning, and his linner was delivered between 3:30 and 4:00. Cattle are creatures of habit, and consistent timing of delivery and feed quality is important to their digestive health. We also routinely test our feed rations to ensure the quality and consistency of the blend of feed that is offered to the animals.
*Comfortable living conditions in the cattle pens. We place a big focus on pen maintenance which helps to ensure that the pens that our cattle live in are comfortable for them. We routinely clean our pens and haul out the natural fertilizer that the cattle produce to maintain a clean living space. Mother Nature can wreak havoc with this at times when we receive large amounts of rain or a blizzard, but we work diligently to ensure the best possible conditions for our cattle. My new livestock waste control facility has been a tremendous help in maintaining good living conditions for our cattle because it has enabled the moisture to drain out of our pens more efficiently which enables our pen surfaces to dry more quickly.
The bottom line is that healthy and comfortable cattle make healthy and delicious beef grown using fewer nature resources. This reduces the environmental footprint of Matt’s and my farm. Just like my happy and healthy seven-year old continues to grow with efficient feed conversion, so do my cattle. It is my responsibility to offer quality care and feed to my animals.