Low Input Cattle Finishing

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

Table of Contents



Materials and Methods

Results and Discussion



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, carcass weight, carcass quality and carcass yield grades were similar for the two treatments. The final weights were heavier for the totally mixed ration group, but they had lower dressing percentages compared to the self fed group.

Materials and Methods

Seventy crossbred steers (884 + 90 lb initial wt.) were used in this replicated finishing study at Central Grasslands Research Extension Center from January 3, 2001 to May 20, 2002 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 $1.75/bu., wheat midds $70/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 38 lb. advantage in gain. After looking at the carcass information, most of that advantage was probably due to extra fill during weighing. Quality grades, ribeye areas, fat depth, and yield grades were all very similar. The totally mixed ration group had heavier final weights (1,340 lbs vs 1,302 lbs) and carcass weights (819 lbs vs 808 lbs), but they also had lower dressing percentages. Much of this difference may have been differences in fill at final weighing.

Table 2 shows the economic comparison of the self-fed vs. totally mixed ration groups. The initial value, trucking and marketing and interest costs were very similar between the two groups. The carcass value as well as the feed costs were lower for the self-fed groups. They didn’t gain quite as well, but consumed less feed. The return to labor and management was very similar with -$6.05 for the self-fed group and -$5.95 for the totally mixed ration group. This study does not compare the costs of daily feeding operations or costs of facilities. It would, however, seem apparent that $0.10 does not cover the cost of daily feeding.


Both feeding systems worked quite well but both groups had negative returns. The self- feeding system required less labor inputs and lower equipment investments. 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.

Table 1. Performance and Carcass Information



Totally Mixed


Initial weight (lbs)



Final weight (lbs)



131-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. Economic Comparison



Totally Mixed


Carcass value ($112/cwt)



Initial value ($82/cwt)



Feed cost



Trucking and marketing



Interest (7%)






Return to Labor, Management

Yardage and equipment





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NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center
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