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Self Feeding Options

Self Feeding Options

By: John Dhuyvetter

Most cattle feeding is designed around daily or twice daily deliveries of feed to meet the expected needs of the cattle being fed.  Preferred, is to provide a mixed ration of feedstuffs that is readily consumed and meets projected nutrient needs for production and health.  This allows for efficient use of feed, control of waste, and the ability to include a wide range of feed ingredients and adjust rations according animal response and changing conditions.

The investment in feeding equipment may be very minimal for small numbers being hand fed, placing feed in bunks with a bucket and fork; too substantial, where large numbers are being fed with the use of mechanization  including loaders and feed mixing wagons delivering to fence line bunks.  With limitations on available labor, time, or investment  some situations lend themselves to alternatives in which animals self feed for a portion or all of their ration from a multiday supply of feed.

Intake limited self fed supplements are popular for grazing and range cattle for the convenience and savings from less delivery cost.   Where small quantities of supplemental feed are needed as with minerals or protein, commercial products have been developed with liquid feeds,  pressed blocks, low moisture tubs, and loose meals utilizing hardness, flavors, placement and or restricted access to limit consumption.

Hay is also commonly self fed where large bale packages feed a group of cattle for multiple days.  Waste is controlled by placing bales in feeders to restrict trampling and bedding losses.  The concept of “grazing” a multiday supply of bales in the “field” is being looked at by people wanting to limit daily feeding costs and labor.  The amount of hay provided for the number of head for the period of days needs to be estimated fairly close to avoid excessive waste.  Feeding a mix of higher and lower quality hay also limits waste to fairly low value forage and when fed in the field or pasture won’t require added cleanup expense and contributes organic matter and fertility to the land.

Creep feeds are also typically self fed to nursing calves in feeders with cages restricting access to cows.  In some instances additives may be used to limit calf consumption and protect against over eating digestive problems.  Formulations of creep feed also tend to use feed stuffs high in digestible fiber and  minimally processed or pelleted to prevent bloat causing fines.  The inclusion of medications as an ionophore further helps to modulate intake, modify rumen fermentation , and lessen digestive risks.

Creep feeders/self feeders can also be used to feed growing finishing cattle post weaning and a convenient option for smaller sized groups.  Generally daily mixed ration fed cattle achieve slightly better performance and better conversion with greater control or management over digestive health.  Not all feeds that can be safely fed in bunk work well self fed.  Typically minimal roughage can be incorporated into a self feeder.  Instead free choice hay or grazing is provided to the concentrate in the feeder.  The use of slower fermenting grains and high fiber byproducts  buffered with mineral supplements and additives are desirable in formulating a self fed ration.  Some very good commercial products are also available for blending with grain to effectively control intake.

Management  of self feeding includes a number of factors:  Generally 4-6 inches of feeder space should be provided per head.  Control fines in preparing feed and opt for coarse or whole grains versus a situation of accumulating fines in the feeder troughs.  Starting new cattle on a self feeder is particularly risky.  Formulate for safe feeds, set the slide to restrict feed flow, and consider adding a limiter.  Once on feed and a good pattern of eating has been established avoid drastic changes to the ration and monitor closely following storm events.  Never let the self feeder run empty which is likely to be followed by over eating, acidosis and bloat when re filled.

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