Stair-step Feeding

Ag producers working to increase growth and mammary development in their cows or horses may want to consider implementing a stair-step feeding regimen.

Described by Dr. Chung Park at Dickinson Research Extension Center’s Horse Field Day earlier this week, this novel feeding routine also improves the animal’s lactation performance.

“This is an animal rearing and feeding program to improve general health, growth and lactation,” he said.

The first step in the program involves restricting the diet of animals in the early stages of gestation, he said. In the second trimester, calories are reduced to 70 percent of normal. While required nutrients are provided, the reduction suppresses non-essential metabolic activity and minimizes body and organ growth in the animal.

In the third trimester, the animal is put on a refeeding regimen in which it receives 120 percent of normal caloric intake. This leads to increased metabolic efficiency and accelerated body and organ growth.

“We are trying to exploit the nature of the physiology,” Park said.

The benefits of the program include improved animal development and productivity, early calving, good udder growth and lactation and increased lactation potential and longevity, Park said. Heifers involved in the study had increased mammary glad development and improved lactation performance.

Producers interested in utilizing the stair-step regimen must deal with several important considerations, Park said. They should examine their objectives and set clear goals, consider the type of operation they are running and consider the available facilities and resources. Then, they will be able to determine the type of stair-step model most useful to their particular operation.

While Park’s original research was done using beef and dairy cattle, the results have been shown to be equally applicable to those raising horses.

This article appeared in the August 16, 2003 edition of the Dickinson Press.

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