Effects of Bedding Material on Performance and Carcass Traits of Steers Fed During the Winter in North Dakota

Vern Anderson and Jon Schoonmaker


Text Box: Introduction

Feeding cattle in North Dakota poses some environmental challenges with wind and cold.  Wind fence and shelterbelt protection have been proven to be effective in enhancing performance of feedlot cattle in North Dakota (Anderson and Bird, 1993).  Bedding has also been proven to be a profitable management tool for cattle feeders during winter months. This project was conducted to evaluate different bedding materials for feeding cattle during the winter.


Calves born and raised at the Carrington Research Extension Center and purchased calves that closely matched the age and weight were allotted to four bedding treatments in late fall of 2004 (n=113).  The bedding treatments were no bedding (pens were scraped approximately two times per month), and bedding with wheat straw, corn stover, or soybean residue.  All bedding materials were harvested with a large round baler and the same number of bales was used in each pen.  Steers were assigned to one of eight pens with 14-15 head per pen, and two replicates per treatment. All steers were weighed every 28 days to compare performance during segments of the winter and spring. A common corn-based diet formulated to contain 13.1% CP and 60 MCal NEg/cwt was fed to all cattle in this study. Steers were fed in open drylot pens equipped with automatic waterers and fenceline bunks, which allowed for two feet of bunk space per head. A windbreak shelterbelt was located approximately 100 feet to the north of the pens.  All pens were identical in size, orientation (south sloping), and water source with approximately 300 square feet per head. Steers were marketed to Tyson Foods (Dakota City, NE) on May 17, 2005. Hot carcass weight, fat thickness, percentage kidney, pelvic and heart fat, ribeye muscle area, and USDA quality and yield grades were determined by qualified personnel 48 hours after slaughter.



Dry matter intake tended to be lower (P<.12) overall for the calves bedded with corn stover vs. all other treatments.  The palatability of stover is well known and calves tend to eat the leaves and husks, if available.  A modest dilution in the energy density may have contributed to the lower (P<.01) gains for the stover-bedded calves.  Dry matter intake was equal for all other treatments over the length of the study.  Calves bedded with wheat straw gained the fastest (P<.01) followed by soybean residue, stover, and the calves in the scraped control pen (Table 2).  Differences in weight gain over several months led to significantly heavier (P<.05) calves in the wheat straw treatment during the last two months of the study, followed by soybean residue, corn stover, and no bedding.  Feed efficiency was greatest for the bedded calves (P=.03 to .11) during the first three months on feed, the coldest part of the winter.  No differences were observed for the last two months of feed. Some differences were observed by month due to bedding treatment.  Dry matter intake was reduced (P<.06) compared to control pens in most bedding treatments during the first two months on feed.  This suggests calves without bedding had greater appetites and higher maintenance requirements, as gains in the control pens were lower for the first three months on feed.  During periods 3 and 4, the inverse tended to occur, (P<.13) with bedded calves consuming more feed and exhibiting similar or greater gains.  Intake during periods 4 and 5 decreased with spring thaw, mud, and challenging temperatures, however, gains seemed to be stable from previous months. With no difference in feed efficiency observed in this study, the primary advantage of bedding calves is to market cattle at a heavier weight or with fewer days on feed. Hot carcass weights reflect the difference in live weight due to treatment as no differences (P>.17) in dressing percent and marbling score were observed (Table 3). However, yield grade and fat thickness appear to be affected by treatment (P<.02) and patterned after live weight with increased fat deposition in straw-bedded calves followed by soybean residue, control, and corn stover.  Ribeye area and kidney-pelvic-heart fat were not affected by treatment.



There appear to be some real differences in bedding materials for steers. The commonly held idea that wheat straw is the best bedding material is supported in this study.  Corn stover and soybean residue may be more useful in situations where gain is not critical (growing heifers, beef cows near calving) and these residues are available on a cost-competitive basis. n



Bedding studies evaluated scraped pens, compared to straw corn stove or soybean residue.