Performance and economic comparison of finishing calves in North Dakota using corn or barley or in Kansas using corn as major ration ingredients

V. L. Anderson, K. F. Hoppe, H. Hughes, K. Froelich, and K. Alderin

Weaned steer calves (n=256, avg wt 588) consigned by 13 North Dakota cattlemen each of the past two years were backgrounded together for an average of 51 days prior to the start of a feedlot finishing study. The finishing program compared feedlot performance of steers fed in North Dakota (ND) on a corn based finishing diet (ND-corn) with steers fed in ND on a barley based finishing diet (ND-barley) and steers fed in Kansas on a corn based finishing diet (KS-corn). Steers gains and feed/gain averaged 3.49, 3.36 and 3.77 pounds per day and 6.21, 6.27 and 5.79 pounds of dry matter per pound of gian for ND-corn, ND-barley, and KS-corn treatments respectively. Carcasses from ND-corn and KS-corn fed steers appear to be similar in fat thickness, rib eye area, marbling score and % choice. ND steer carcasses were lighter and had lower yield grades. ND-barley steers appear to have reduced %KPH and yield grade. Feed costs, while a brief snapshot in time, suggest ND may have an advantage in feed cost per unit gain, to a point where cattle feeding is as profitable or more so than in Kansas if feed cost relationships remain the same.
Key words: Feedlot, Finishing, Climate, Feed costs, Beef Steers.

North Dakota (ND) feeders, who produce excellent quality feeder calves, have long wondered if they can practically and economcally finish steer calves raised in the state. Approximately 290,000 steers of the 960,000 steer and heifer calves produced are backgrounded in ND with an estimate of 75,000 of those finished in the state annually (Beard, 1996). Many ranchers sell their calves at weaning and others have retained ownership of their calves during the feeding period. These calves are fed in commercial feedyards usually outside ND where the feeder is paid to feed and market other peoples calves. A few custom feeders operate in ND.
Farmers and ranchers in ND also produce large quantities of forages and grains. Barley and corn are the predominant feed grains. Processing by-products from corn (distillers grains, corn gluten feed, and screenings), and wheat (middlings or mill run, and screenings), plus sunflower meal, crambe meal, barley malt pellets, bean splits, beet pulp, and potato waste are also available in substantial quantitiy in the state. Other new crops with potential as feeds include naked oats and field peas. Research is being conducted to asses the potential of many of these feeds. Forages are predominantly native hay, alfalfa-grass hay, annual forages (millet), corn silage, and cereal grain straws. Many of these feedstuffs are useful in cow/calf production and may also produce economical gains for growing and finishing steers. Diets fed in ND may be more varied than in other regions due to the diversity of feeds available and wide price swings.
Cattlemen have little control over climate but can mitigate environmental stress to some degree by management. Windbreaks, shelterbelts and bedding can increase gains up to .3 lb. per day when animals are exposed to conditions below their thermoneutral or comfort zone (Anderson and Bird, 1993). Calves placed on feed in the early fall adapt to feedlot conditions and rations during mild weather producing rapid and efficient post weaning growth. Mud and wet snow are not generally a problem in the winter in ND but may cause significant reductions in gain during spring thaws.
Heifer calves raised in South Dakota (SD)and fed to market weight in Texas (TX) or SD were used to compare performance and economics of feeding location. Heifers fed in SD consumed 4.0% more feed and were 4.5% less efficient in converting feed to live animal gain than contemporaries fed in TX (Pritchard and Preston, 1992). Although feed conversion was lower in SD, feed costs were also lower and profit potential was higher for the SD fed heifers.
A three year study was initiated in 1995 to compare steer finishing in North Dakota vs Kansas. This paper is a two year progress report comparing biological and economic performance of producer owned steers used in this project.

Materials and Methods
Thirteen participating cattlemen in central ND consigned 123 head in mostly nine head increments each of the last two years. Calves were delivered to the Carrington Research Extension Center in mid October for a common preconditioning period.. The preconditioning diets used are listed in Table 1. After the preconditioning period, an equal number of animals from each producer were allotted to one of three treatment groups: 1) a corn based finishing diet in North Dakota, (ND-corn), 2) a barley based finishing diet in North Dakota (ND-barley), and 3) a corn based finishing diet in Kansas (KS-corn).

Table 1. Backgrounding diets for weaned steer calves in North Dakota
                                       Lbs/hd/day      % As Fed
                                     --------------  --------------
                                     Year 1  Year 2  Year 1  Year 2
                                     ------  ------  ------  ------
        Yeast                          .03     .03     .11     .10
        Mineral                        .10     .14     .37     .50
        Decox/Ionophore supplement     .92     .90    3.49    3.19
        Soybean meal                   .36    -.-     1.36    
        Canola meal                   -.-      .48            1.71
        Corn grain, rolled            7.96    9.84   30.16   34.83
        Alfalfa, chopped              5.59    6.27   21.18   22.20
        Grass hay, chopped            1.00    -.-     3.79    
        Corn silage                  10.43   10.58   39.52   37.46

The KS-corn calves were shipped to Black Diamond Feeders in Harrington, KS the first year and Brookover Feedyard in Garden City, KS the second year. The ND-corn and ND-barley steers were placed on feed in adjacent pens at the Carrington Research Extension Center. Table 2 lists ingredients in the finishing diets for the three treatment groups. Step up diets were used in the transition from backgrounding to finishing diets over approximately one month.

Table 2. Diets for steer calves finished on corn or barley in ND vs corn in KS (% as fed)
                              ND              ND              KS
                             Corn           Barley           Corn
                        -------------   -------------   -------------
                         Yr 1    Yr 2    Yr 1    Yr 2    Yr 1*   Yr 2*
                        -----   -----   -----   -----   -----   -----
Corn, dry rolled        82.12   71.19   27.19   24.72   80.00   86.00
Barley, dry rolled       -       -      57.06   47.96    -       -
Ionophore supplement     2.34    2.54    2.44    2.63    2.90    -
Canola meal              2.77    1.71    -       -       -       -
Alfalfa, chopped         5.87    8.39    6.12    8.41    -       4.00
Corn Silage              6.90    15.71   7.19   15.81    -       -
Molasses                 -       -       -       -       2.80    -
Cotton seed hulls        -       -       -       -       4.50    4.00
Sorghum silage           -       -       -       -       7.00    -
Soybean meal             -       -       -       -       2.80    -
Fat                      -       -       -       -       -       3.00
DRY MATTER, %           76.90   77.23   78.30   77.90   79.20   79.98
CRUDE PROT % (DM basis) 12.4    13.4    15.7    13.1    12.1    14.38   
*Estimates of ration  ingredients due to proprietary ration formulations by commercial feedyards.

Calves were weighed upon delivery at the Carrington Research Extension Center, at the end of the backgrounding period, periodically during finishing and prior to shipment to slaughter. All calves were fed a totally mixed ration in fenceline bunks. ND calves were fed once per day and KS calves were fed twice per day each year. Feed samples were taken periodically throughout the trial and analysis conducted for dry matter and major nutrients. Feed intake was monitored on each group and feed efficiency calculated for the entire period.
All calves were implanted at the start of the finishing period. ND calves were implanted with Ralgro Magnum both years. In year 1, KS-corn steers were implanted with Synovex and Revelor(trenbolone acetate) was used in year two.
Data presented in this paper are based on equal death loss, calf price, (in and out), and days on feed. Linear assumptions were made for the few days difference in days on feed for feed intake and gain in an effort to equalize input. The actual days on feed and fed intake as well as price received for the finished ND steers and KS steers differed slightly due to market pressure and other factors. Both ND treatments were on the finishing diet for 149 days during the first year and 126 days during the second year while the Kansas steers were fed for an additional 14 days during the first year and 7 days during the second year.
Feed costs are based on actual prices paid for feed from shipping invoices and included trucking, storage and processing costs where appropriate. Obviosly, the price of feed is highly volatile and is a major cost factor in determining profit or loss in cattle feeding.

Results and Discussion
Performance and cost of gain during the common backgrounding period in ND are given in Table 3. This period served as a warm-up to insure calves had an even start on the finishing study. Optimum ration balancing can lead to efficient and profitable gains even during the short feeding perids used in this study.

Table 3. Performance, cost of gain, and profit for backgrounding steer calves in North Dakota
                                      Yr 1     Yr 2    2 Yr AVG
                                    -------- --------  --------- 
Number of head                       122      123       123
Start weight, lbs.                   562      614       588
Days on feed                          48       56        52 
End weight, lbs.                     709      797       753
Average daily gain, lbs.               3.07     3.27      3.17
Dry matter per lb. gain, lb.           5.77     5.86      5.82

Feed cost per hd per day, $             .930    1.140     1.035
Feed cost per lb. gain,  $              .303     .348      .326
Yardage and bedding per lb. gain, $     .082     .097      .090
Vet expenses per lb. gain, $            .050     .020      .035
Total cost per lb. gain, $              .435     .465      .0450
Profit per lb. gain, $                  .319     .067      .193

Performance data for the finishing period for each year and the two year averages are reported in Table 4. Since calves started at 709 pounds in year 1, and 797 pounds in year 2, it makes it a bit hard to directly compare. Steers were on feed for 23 days longer during the first year. Final weights averaged 1274, 1235 and 1215 pounds for KS-corn, ND-corn and ND-barley groups. Steer gains appear to be greater for the KS-corn group, followed by ND-corn and ND- barley at 3.77, 3.49 and 3.36 pounds per day respectively. Feed (dry matter) per unit gain averaged 5.79, 6.21 and 6.27 for the same respective treatments.
Carcass data is listed in Table 5. Two year data is quite variable but in general, ND steers produced lighter carcasses and possible reduced dressing percent. ND-corn and KS-corn groups were equal in fat thickness, rib eye ares, marbling score and percent choice. ND-barley steers appear to have lower %KPH and Yield Grade.

Table 4. Performance of steer calves finished in North Dakota on corn or barley based diets vs in Kansas on a corn based diet
                          ND              ND              KS
                         Corn           Barley           Corn*
                     --------------  --------------  ---------------
                     Yr 1    Yr 2    Yr 1    Yr 2    Yr 1    Yr 2
                     ------  ------  ------  ------  ------  ------- 
Initial wt, lb        712     795     706     797     709     800
Days on feed          149     126     149     126     149     126
Final wt., lb        1249    1221    1230    1200    1260    1283    
Avg. Daily Gain, lb     3.604   3.383   3.514   3.199   3.701   3.834
DM/gain                 5.854   6.556   5.790   6.754   5.939   5.640

                                Two Year Averages
                               ND      ND      KS
                              Corn    Barley  Corn*
                             ------  ------- ------
        Initial wt, lb        753.5   751.5   754.5
        Days on feed          137.5   137.5   137.5
        Final wt, lb         1235    1215    1274
        Avg. daily gain, lb     3.49    3.36    3.77
        DM/gain                 6.21    6.27    5.79
*Adjusted for equal days on feed and equal death loss

Economic data is presented in Table 6. Fiscal comparisons are a snapshot in time of conditions as they existed. The biological data from this study will be used in a decision making model with risk assesment based on variability in the animal performance and feed costs over the long term.
Year to year variation is caused by "year effect" which can include weather, feed source, animal source, animal health and other unknown factors. However, comparisons made with data from several years may be more valid as the basis for decision making.
All calves generally performed very well during the finishing period. A relatively mild winter in North Dakota may have contributed to excellent performance the first year. During the second year, longer periods of cold were experience, mixed with snow and wind. Calves were heavier and had more condition which provides for a reduced lower critical temperature. Essentially, cattle were able to tolerate the extreme conditions with less stress due to increased fat for insulation. One more year of the study will give us a better sampling of northern plains winters.
Actual ND feed prices were used based on current market prices plus transportation and a charge for processing and storage of grain at the feedyard. Feed costs may vary depending on demand in the region. KS corn feed costs were based on billed costs.

Winters are very different as indicated by feed costs and to some degeree animal performance. Feed costs appear to be the major advantage for North Dakota in spite of reduced gains.. Gains in Kansas were slightly higher but not enough to compensate for the difference in feed costs. From the data reported here, cattle feeding in North Dakota appears to be as profitable or more profitable than in Kansas if current feed price relationships continue.

Table 5. Carcass quuality of steer calves finished in North Dakota on corn or barley based diets vs in Kansas on a corn based diet.
                              ND              ND              KS
                             Corn           Barley           Corn
                        -------------   -------------   -------------
                         Yr 1    Yr 2    Yr 1    Yr 2    Yr 1*   Yr 2*
                        -----   -----   -----   -----   -----   -----
Carcass weigth, lb      755.2   725.6   738.1   707.8   794.8   801.9
Dressing percent        60.43   61.54   60.01   61.06   60.42   63.40
Rib eye area, sq. in.   13.46   13.19   13.75   13.00   12.78   13.42
Backfat, in.              .35     .35     .31     .33     .50     .31
KPH, %                   2.00    2.07    1.67    1.90    3.12    1.67
Marbling Score         376     376     349     366     407     339
Yield Grade              2.34    2.33    2.02    2.22    3.29    2.35
Percent USDA Choice     35.0    41.5    19.5    31.7    57.9    17.1

                          Two year Averages
                         ND      ND      KS
                        Corn    Barley  Corn*
                        -----   ------  -----
Carcass weight, lb      740.4   722.9   798.4
Dressing percent        60.97   60.54   61.91
Rib eye area, sq. in.   13.33   13.38   13.10
Backfat, in.              .35     .32     .41
KPH, %                   2.04    1.79    2.40
Marbling Score         376     358     373
Yield Grade              2.34    2.12    2.82
Percent USDA Choice     38.3    25.6    37.5

Literature Cited
Anderson, V. L. and Jackson Bird. 1993. Effect of shelterbelt protection on performance of feedlot steers during a North Dakota winter. Carrington Research Extension Center-NDSU Beef Production Field Day Proceedings. Vol 17:19.

Pritchard, R. H. and R. L. Preston. 1992. Comparison of production efficiencies when calves are fed in South Dakota or Texas. South Dakota Beef Report 92-16, p 62.

Beard, Larry. 1996. North Dakota Agricultural Statistics Service. Issue 03-96

Table 6. Economics of steer calves finished in North Dakota on corn or barley based diets vs in Kansas on a corn based diet.
                                    ND              ND              KS
                                   Corn           Barley           Corn*
                               -------------    ------------   -------------
                                Yr 1    Yr 2    Yr 1    Yr 2    Yr 1    Yr 2
                               -----   -----    ----   -----   -----   -----
Feed cost/hd/day, $            1.038   1.440    .959   1.470   1.255   2.040
Feed cost/lb. gain, $           .288    .426    .273    .461    .339    .532
Yardage and bedding/ lb gain, $ .086    .104    .088    .110    .083    .013
Vet expense/lb gain, $          .007    .006    .024    .005    .022    .024
Other (truck, insp. etc.), $    .038    .052    .039    .055    .041    .058
Total cost/lb gain, $           .419    .587    .424    .626    .485    .627

Break even price, $/cwt       63.48   64.40   61.65   65.90   63.90   66.20

                                         Two year Averages
                                        ND      ND      KS
                                       Corn    Barley  Corn*
                                       -----   ------  -----
Feed cost/hd/day, $                    1.239   1.215   1.648
Feed cost/lb. gain, $                   .357    .367    .436
Yardage and bedding/ lb gain, $         .095    .099    .048
Vet expense/lb gain, $                  .006    .015    .023
Other exp (truck, br. insp. etc.), $    .045    .047    .050
Total cost/lb gain, $                   .532    .525    .556

Breakeven price, $/cwt                63.94   63.78   65.05

*Adjusted for equal days on feed and equal death loss

Back to 1996 Beef and Bison Production Field Day Table of Contents