Low Input Cattle Finishing


Brian Kreft, Ritch Cargo, Jackie Kreft, and Dwight Schmidt

Central Grasslands Research Extension Center

North Dakota State University



Steers were fed a finishing ration which was offered as: 1. totally mixed ration and 2. self-fed grain mix (fed in creep feeder) and self-fed long- stem hay.  Performance and carcass data were collected to determine differences in the two dietary treatments.  The totally mixed ration was balanced as a low cost ration utilizing corn, corn silage, hay and supplement.  The self-fed ration was designed to be safe and convenient to feed.  It included corn, wheat midds, and supplement.  The totally mixed ration was mixed and fed daily using a feed wagon and fence line feed bunks.  The self-fed group was allowed to eat from a creep feeder.  The feeder was filled when empty using a grinder-mixer.  All feed was weighed for each group.  Average daily gain, final weight, carcass weight, carcass quality and carcass yield grades were similar for the two treatments.




According to North Dakota Agricultural Statistics, 35 percent of North Dakota’s cowherds are in operations of 100 head or less.  These smaller herds represent more than 72 percent of the 12,300 cattle operations in North Dakota.  Most of these operations sell their calves at or shortly after weaning.  This project was implemented to give  producers a low cost alternative to feed their calves without great capital expenditures in facilities and equipment.  Many operators also have off-farm jobs and responsibilities.  To increase the number of operators feeding cattle in North Dakota, a feeding method which is safe, low cost, and has low labor requirements will be needed.  This project helps address some of these alternatives.


Materials and Methods

Thirty crossbred steers (870 ± 83 lb initial wt.) were used in this nonreplicated finishing study at Central Grasslands Research Extension Center from January 3, 2001 to May 15, 2001 to evaluate self-fed vs. totally mixed rations.  The totally mixed ration contained (as fed basis) 67.8 percent corn, 15 percent corn silage, 8.6 percent CRP hay, 8.6 percent supplement.  The self-fed diet consisted of free choice CRP hay offered in a bale feeder and a grain mix of (as fed basis) 62 percent corn, 31 percent wheat midds, and 7 percent supplement.  Both diets were formulated to provide adequate calcium to maintain a calcium to phosphorous ratio of 1.5:1.  The supplement also contained Rumensin ® and Tylan®.  Cattle were weighed every 28 days and daily records of feed offered were recorded.  The price of feedstuffs for these rations was: corn $1.65/bu., wheat midds $60/ton, corn silage $25/ton, CRP hay $30/ton, and supplement $250/ton.


Results and Discussions

Table 1 shows there were no real differences in initial or final weights, although the totally mixed ration group showed a 15 lb. advantage in gain.  After looking at the carcass information, most of that advantage was probably due to extra fill during weighing.  Carcass weights, dressing percent and quality grades were all very similar.  The ribeye area was larger for the totally mixed ration group (13.5 in. vs. 12.5 in.)  which gave them better yield grades (2.6 vs. 3.0).  This may, however, be a genetic difference and not a direct difference from feeding method.


Table 1.   Performance and Carcass Information



Totally Mixed


Initial weight (lbs) 1-3-2001

Final weight (lbs) 5-15-2001

132-day average daily gains (lbs)

Hot carcass weight (lbs)

Dressing percent (lbs)

Quality grade

Ribeye area (sq. in)

Fat depth (in)

Final yield grade

































Table 2 shows the economic comparison of the self-fed vs. totally mixed ration groups.  The carcass value, initial value, trucking and marketing, and interest costs were very similar between the two groups.  The feed costs however, were lower for the totally mixed ration group as compared to the self fed group ($99.99 vs. $116.42).  This difference resulted in a $21.18 advantage for the totally mixed ration group.  This study does not compare the costs of daily feeding operations or costs of facilities.


Table 2.   Economic Comparison (per head)




Totally Mixed



Carcass value ($117/cwt)

Initial value ($82/cwt)

Feed cost

Trucking and marketing

Interest (7%)












Return to Labor, Management


Yardage and equipment



















Both feeding systems worked quite well with both groups having positive returns.  The self- feeding system required less labor inputs and lower equipment investments, but had higher feed costs.  Self-feeding cattle may have its greatest potential with small to moderate sized operations.


Future research may explore other fiber-based co-products that lend themselves to creep feeding.  Some of them may include beet pulp, soybean hulls, barley malt pellets, and grain screenings.



NDSU Vice President,
Dean and Director for Agricultural Affairs
NDSU Extension Service ND Agricultural
Experiment Station
NDSU College of Agriculture NDSU College of Human Development and Education