Low Input Cattle Finishing

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


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According to North Dakota Agricultural Statistics, 35% of North Dakota’s cowherd is in operations of 100 head or less. These smaller herds represent more than 72% of the 12,300 cattle operations in North Dakota. Most of these operations sell their calves at, or shortly after weaning. This project was started to give these producers a low cost alternative which will allow them to feed their calves without great capital expenditures in facilities and equipment.

Many of these 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 was started to explore some of these alternatives.


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 was 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.

Materials and Methods

Thirty crossbred steers (870 + 83 lb initial wt.) were used in this unreplicated 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% corn, 15% corn silage, 8.6% CRP hay, 8.6% 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% corn, 31% wheat midds, and 7% 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 Discussion

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


1-3-2001 initial weight (lbs)

5-15-2001 final weight (lbs)

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 cost 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



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.

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NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center
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