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Raising Freezer Beef: How To Feed Grain-Finished Beef

Black angus cattle eating a corn feed ration from a small feeding bunk.
Courtesy: brandtbolding, Canva

A trend that has become more prominent in recent years is for ranchers to finish a few animals and sell beef directly to the consumer. Consumers have a desire to know where their beef comes from, value the story and are seeking ranchers to purchase beef from. At the same time, ranchers have been seeking opportunities to add value to their cattle and reduce their exposure to market swings.

However, feeding and managing a grain-finished animal is different than managing a cowherd or backgrounding calves. Proper feeding and management is key to capturing extra value and in meeting customer expectations. This is part one of a four-part series for ranchers who have a small group of cattle with limited equipment who are planning to finish a few head of cattle each year. This article will address what diets to feed these animals.

Getting Started

Finishing cattle doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does take additional management to ensure the health and performance of the cattle are maintained. This article will address a few options for hand-feeding a small group of cattle to finish.

First and foremost, it is critical to take an inventory of the feeds you have available and the quality of these feeds. Even through hay will make up a small portion of the ration, it is important to know the quality and the nutrients it will be contributing to the overall diet.

In order to reach a finished endpoint, these animals will be on a high-concentrate diet to convert the energy in the feed to pounds of gain over a period of time. The period of time needed to finish cattle will be dependent on multiple variables, including age of the animals and whether they are calf-feds or yearlings, and ration being fed. This time can range from 80-300 days.

Things to Consider

Before discussing specific diets, here are some tips and things to think about prior to finishing out cattle for beef.

  • How many animals do you plan to finish out?
  • Do you know start weight and what they should weigh at finish?
  • What equipment do you have available to feed them in or with, i.e. bucket, feed bunk, mixer wagon, loader tractor, pitchfork, etc.?
  • What feed resources do you raise or readily have access to?
  • What is the nutrient content of those feed resources?
  • Do you have a good understanding of management of fat cattle, i.e. feeding times, step-up rations, acidosis, pen maintenance, etc.?
  • Do you plan to hand-feed or put them on a self-feeder?

Developing a Ration

Determining feedstuffs available for your feeding situation will be key to your success. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to finishing beef cattle, but it will be dependent on utilizing the most cost-effective alternatives available. Table 1 shows an example as-fed diet for an 1100 lb. steer. This is based on a final ration for one animal that could work for your operation, depending on cost, equipment and the specific situation. This ration should support an average daily gain over 3 lbs. per day. Various adjustments can be made to accommodate specific situations, feedstuffs and management. This is a starting point.

We can use roughage level to control the acidosis risk and improve our ability to keep cattle on feed. Feeding a ration that has approximately 15-20% roughage is less risky compared to a diet that may only have 10-15% roughage.

Prior to feeding any of these rations, it is important that you have identified how much your animals weigh, what their target final weight is and work with someone who can fine tune the ration to your situation.

Table 1. Example Diet

Option 1 Pounds
Cracked corn
20.0
Dry Distillers Grain
2.0
Commercial Supplement*
0.4
Grass Hay
5.0