Feed lot or pen fattening involves the feeding of beef cattle with a protein balance, high energy diet for a period range of 70 – 120 days under confinement to increase live weight and improve the degree of finish and thus obtain best grades at the abattoir.
Pen Fattening enable the animal to express fully their genetic potential for growth and the profitability of beef production to be maximised, provided the beef price to feed ratio is favourable.
Feedlot Design and Layout
When siting the feedlot you should consider the drainage, proximity to the feed storage facilities and water supply.
The area should have well drained soils and a slope of about 2%
There should be some windbreak to avoid water pollution
The pens should be close to handling facilities
For large animals you should allow 11 to 14 m2 which can be reduced to 7.5m2 and small animals the floor space should be 9m2.
A roof can be placed over the feed trough
The design of the troughs depends on the permanency, mode of feeding and size of operation and method of feed supply.
Feeding space of 30cm per head should be used.
There is need to supply adequate water of about 50 litres per head per day and some reserve for 2 to 3 days.
The water trough should allow for ease of cleaning and as far as possible from the feed trough to avoid fouling.
Size of feedlot.
There is not an optional size for a feedlot. Even a farmer feeding a single animal can make a profit. On the other hand, in case of a large enterprises where its sole source of income is the feedlot, the feedlot must be large enough to pay for the running costs such as salaries, transport, and cost of equipment and so on.
A floor space allocation of 9 – 14m2/head is ideal depending on size and breed. However, for large groups of animals one can go down to a stocking density of 7.4m2/head.
The size/space can be determined as follows when:
Stocking Density (SD) = 15m2
30m x 50m = 100head/pen
60m x 50m = 200head/pen
Feeding space allocation should be 30 – 50cm/head depending on whether the animals are poled or horned. Feed must be offered free choice and at least 50L/head of drinking water must be available. A water reserve that carries 2 – 3 days’ supply must be installed in case of pump or borehole failure.
Water troughs must be easy to clean, have a drain plug and sited far away from the feed to prevent fouling of the water. It can be economic to have several pens drinking from the same water trough.
Principle of Pen Fattening
Beef carcass is made of muscles, fat and bone, of which at birth there is very little fat in the carcass and initial development is mainly borne and muscle growth. As the animal matures and gains mass, a stage is reached when fat deposition accelerates.
Energy consumed in excess of maintenance requirements is used for tissue synthesis (beef production) and the efficiency of use above maintenance for tissue synthesis remains constant. Thus the greater intake of energy above maintenance the smaller the maintenance cost per unit gain and the cheaper the gain. Generally as the digestibility and high intake of feed increases, so does the voluntary feed intake up to certain limits. Once an acceptable live mass and level of carcass fat is attained according to the market demand, then the animal is said to be finished and ready for slaughter.
The combined effects of high digestibility and high intake, together with higher net efficiency, means the efficiency use of energy will be greater if the cattle are fed ad lib with diets of high digestibility or a high level of metabolisable energy (ME). Feeding energy is the pacesetter for meat production and performance in the feedlot exercise.
The Reasons for Pen Fattening
To increase the mass of the animal for slaughter at a younger age and thereby increase turnover maximising output from beef enterprise.
To improve the degree of fatness and fleshing of an animal and so achieve higher grade at a younger age
To take advantage of seasonal high prices, which are usually high from October to February.
To even out beef supply on the market in line with government policy
The most important consideration in pen fattening are
Feed, and its composition
Feed conversation ratio,
The type of animal
Cost of Animal
The optimum length of the feeding period.
The energy level of the diet should be as high as economically possible. Ideally it must be in the region of 70 to 80% Total Digestible Nutrient (TDN) (10.5 to 12 mega joules/metabolisable energy MJME/Kg on dry matter basis). Maize is the most commonly used of energy in Zimbabwe. For convenience and to provide roughage, it is fed in the form of snap corn containing 75 to 83% grain. Generally, the performance of animals on diets containing different energy feeds will be closely related to the energy content of the diets assuming it is correctly balanced in other respects.
Sorghum can be used and taken to be 89% maize value. The white varieties are better than the reds. The choice of the feed should be dictated by performance in relation to cost. For some feeds the quantities to be included in the diets must be restricted. Feed containing high levels of oils such as cotton sees, sunflower and germ meal need to be restricted so that the oil content of the diet does not exceed 7%.
Feed grade wheat should not exceed 50% of the diet to avoid digestive disorders and reduction intake. Malt culms, being rather unpalatable should not exceed 20% of the diet. Molasses, which can improve the palatability and stability of the mixtures, should not exceed 55% of the diet. It is usually included at 30% of the diet. The value of silage in fattening diets is largely determined by the amount of grain in the silage.
Feed Additives and Implants.
Various additives and implants have been shown to improve the efficiency of feed conversion and can be used to improve the economics of pen fattening. These are:
Implants e.g. Zeranol – these usually administered as slow release implanted pellets behind the ear. The have a hormonal activity leading to increased growth rate and protein content in the carcass and improved feed conversion ratio. A minimum period between implanting and slaughter is prescribe.
Antibiotics (Zinc bacitracin) – these have selective antibiotic effects leading to increased gain/or improved feed efficiency and some may reduce the incidences of liver abscesses, foot rot, diarrhoea and acidosis.
Ionophores e.g. monensin, lasolocid – these are also antibiotics, which improve the efficiency of energy absorption, and reduce incidences of acidosis and bloat. Monensin tends to reduce intake while gains remain unaffected, while lasolocid has less effect on intake but increase gains.
This is the most important factor affecting the rate of gain and efficiency of feed conversion. Intake varies with the mass of the animal, the type of diet and the stage of the feeding period. On low diets intake is controlled by gut fill and is usually of the order of 2.5% of the body mass or less.
As energy increases with decreasing roughage levels intake increases reaching a peak with diets of about 20 to 30% roughage. With further increases in energy concentration, intake decreases tending to be controlled to a based diet is 2.8% this figure may increase to about 3.3% if the ration is particularly palatable or if maize is replaced with an energy source with less energy. Intake usually starts at relatively low level, increases for a while and then levels off or slowly declines.
Yearlings and 2.5 year olds on a 20% roughage usually consume 2.5% of their body mass initially increasing to about 3.2 to 3.5% at 6 to 8 weeks, thereafter declining slowly or remaining fairly constant in absolute terms. Weaners take longer to reach peak intake (about 12 weeks) and show less decline thereafter.
Roughage Levels and Sources
Although efficiency of energy use increase with increasing energy concentration, digestive disorder occur and efficiency declines if the diet contains inadequate roughage. A minimum 15 – 20% roughage should be included in the diet. This equates to 7 to 14% crude fibre depending on types of concentrates and roughage used. Animals should be adapted gradually to such diets. For animals prone to laminitis or bloat the diet should contain 30 to 35% roughage. This also applies to older stock. Diets containing about 50% roughage or more require less grain, but they require longer feeding period and use of more protein and roughage, and the total cost is usually higher than for diets with less roughage.
A wide range of roughages are suitable for inclusion in high-energy diets. These include maize sheath, cobs and stover, silage, grass and legume hay, cottonseed hulls, groundnut hulls and sunflower hulls.
While less important than the concentrate portion of the diets, the palatability and nutritive value of the roughage can affect feed intake, rate of gain and efficiency of feed utilisation. Cottonseed hulls, groundnut hulls and sunflower hulls. While less important than the concentrate portion of the diet, the palatability and nutritive value of the roughage can affect feed intake, rate of gain and efficiency of feed utilisation.
Cottonseed hulls, groundnut hulls, sunflower hulls and roughage substitutes such as sawdust and paper products generally give below average results. Jack beans and soya bean hays contain the enzyme called urease, which quickly breakdown urea to its products and results in urea poisoning.
The diet have 0.45% calcium on Dry Matter basis, assuming phosphorus is present at correct levels. Diets based on most energy feeds other than molasses will be deficient of calcium and limestone flour needs to be include at levels of 0.5% (or other source of income can be used.
The diet should have 0.45% calcium on Dry Matter basis, assuming phosphorus is present at correct levels. Excessive amount of P can adversely affect the use of other minerals and increase incidence of urinary calculi. It should not exceed 1% of the total diet. Diets containing 70% or more grain or grain by products usually contain adequate P and there is no need to ad more, but if such feedstuffs like molasses or silage or orange pulp make up a large proportion of the diet, additional P, in form MCP or borne meal will need to be added.
Of these only zinc, copper, cobalt and iodine are added to high-energy diets.
Diets with no sources of vitamin A should have an additional 3 million I.U of vitamins A added per tonne. No other added vitamins should be necessary in Zimbabwe.
Fats can be added to increase the energy content of the diets and to reduce dustiness. The total fat in the diet should not exceed 7% otherwise feed intake may be depressed. If protected fats are used the fat content may be increase to 10% (not unsaturated fats).
The Physical Form of the Diet.
Maize is usually coarsely milled in order to produce a consistent mixture with the protein concentrate. Whole maize can be fed, roughage is fed separately unless it is incorporates in the pellets. With a period of adaptation the roughage can be reduced to very low levels or even removed completely. Small grains like sorghum are best coarsely milled or cracked. Roughage can be fed not milled when it is fed free choice but it has to be milled for inclusion in complete diets. In this case particle size should be about 10 to 20 mm, which usually requires a screen size of 12 to 25 mm, depending on the mill design and speed.
Profitability in a Feedlot.
In pen fattening making a loss is very easy and the factors that affect pen fattening in a feedlot management operation include:
Buying price of feeders
Cost of feed
Feed conversion ratio
Other cost include:
Interest on capital
Salaries of management and labour
Mortalities and veterinary costs (disease control, medicines, vaccinations, veterinarian)
Pre-treatment costs (growth stimulants, dipping, and vaccination).
Feedlot Profit Margin
The feedlot margin is a function of price margin, feed margin and other expenses. Adding these three together, indicates profit and loss for the period of time which the calculation is made. Feedlot managers need to keep close watch on feedlot profit, which is a very sensitive measure of the efficiency of management.
Price margin and feed margin are the most important factors and have the greatest effect on profitability of the feedlot exercise.
The profit and loss in feed lot determined by the live mass gain in relation to the cost of feed consumed is the feed margin and is calculated as follows:
Feed Margin= live mass gain ×(sale price per kg-cost per kg gained
Good management and obtaining the best feed at the most economic price can influence feed margin by ensuring that high feed conversion efficiency and optimal growth rate are achieved.
The difference between purchase/cost prices, selling price which results from beef price fluctuations, and improvement in carcass quality defines price margin.
Price Margin =live mas gain ×(sale price per kg-cost per kg gained)
Price fluctuations cannot be controlled, thus feedlot rely on a reliable prediction (speculation) of what prices will be when stock are sold at a future date. Although profits are potentially high, risk is high and people lacking experience often lose money with speculation. When buying livestock, most speculations are centred on the price per kg live mass for calculation, not including also the dressing percentage they expect after finish.
Beef: Maize Price Ratio
The price paid for feedlot cattle or their initial value (cost/kg), is a critical factor affecting the profitability of a feedlot enterprise, especially when a small or negative margin exist. A positive feed margin can only be realized with high mass gains and a relatively low cost of feed. The cost of the feedlot ration relative to the beef price and mass gain thus exerts a major influence on the cost of gain.
Because of the high proportion of energy required to ensure good feedlot performance, the cost of carbohydrate, which is usually included in most feedlot rations in the form of maize, snap-corn, hominy chop or sorghum in relation to the beef price, is a significant factor deciding profitability of a feedlot enterprise. This is usually expressed by the beef: maize price, which experience has shown must be more that 13:1 for feedlot to be profitable.
Substantial profits can be made when the beef to feed cost price ration is favourable. Generally average daily gain declines at the end of the feeding period, where animals are fed for a longer period of time (over finished), resulting in a negative feed margin and consequently reduced profit margins.
Feed Conversion Ratio
The rate of gain of pen fattening animals is dependent on the amount of intake and the energy concentration of diet assuming it is correctly balanced in other nutrients. Gains on high energy diets of standard roughage content of 20% have been recorded at 1.2 to 1.6kg per day and the feed conversion ratio (FCR) has a range of 7:1 to 8.5:1 live mass and 11.2:1 to carcass mass. As the feeding period progresses the rate of gain decreases and the FCR deteriorates and a stage is reached where feeding costs equal and then exceeds the value of gains.
Type of Animal
The age, sex, mass type and cost of animal are important consideration in pen fattening. Young animals usually convert more efficiently than older animals, but there are probably greater variation within an age group, according to type and condition, than between age groups. Animals in lean condition with good conformation are usually the most efficient and the price per kg is critical consideration in the economics of fattening. The maximum price payable must be carefully calculated, it is easy to make a financial loss before fattening even starts by paying too much for the animals. The following are recommended induction (starting) masses in order to achieve certain targets slaughter mass for steers for a medium sized breed.
Age at induction Minimum Induction Mass (Kg) Minimum slaughter Mass (Kg)
+9 months 245 425
+18 months 250 425
+21 months 300 465
+33 months 375 505
Heifers consume slightly less feed than steers and are about 7% less efficient. They finish sooner and their corresponding minimum mass should be approximately 10% less than for steers. Bulls and short scrotum bulls grow faster, are most efficient and grade better than steers, this is provided they are sold at milk tooth. Breeds differ more in their daily VFI than in their inherent efficiency of feed conversion.
Beef Breeds in Zimbabwe.
Management has a major influence on the profitability of a feedlot enterprise. Before the animals are penned:
Dip the animals the day there are moved into the pens.
Dose for internal parasites
Group the cattle according to sex, size and type
Implant a growth stimulus if this is to be used
Give Vitamin A injection
Adaptation of the animal to the diet
It is important to adapt animals gradually to the high-energy diets over a period of at least 10 days to avoid digestive disturbances. There are two methods, which can be used;
Rationing the diet:
In this method the diet is rationed at about 45% of the total intake for two days the ration is increased by 1kg until about 11th day when the diet is fed ad lib.
Varying the diet
Initially a diet containing 40 to 50% roughage is fed. This is gradually reduced until the final diet is reached.
There is a need to clean water trough daily and provided clean water and ensure that there is no fouling. Prevent accumulation of sub-standard feed by cleaning out feed regularly, and ensure that the quantities of feed distributed to each pen and sub-standard feed removed are recorded. Shelter should be provided over and around the feed troughs.
Management of the fattening animals
Buying the right type of animal, with respect to breed, age, induction weight, sex, type and conformation, at the right price and at the right time (season) is very important for profitability. In this regard, feedlot managers may have to enlist the services of experienced cattle buyers, agriculturist and animal scientist. Some of the important points to note, however:
The animals to be fattened must have good conformation for high priced cuts and higher dressing out percentage of 50 -55% with an average of 52%.
British and continental breeds (Angus, Susses, Hereford, Charolais and Limousine) and their crosses are better performing in the feedlot compared to the zebu type which include Afrikander, Mashona, Tuli and the Nkone. It should also be noted that some breeds fatten earlier (Hereford and Angus compared to Charolais and Sussex) and should be slaughtered before they get too fat.
Cattle can be classified according to their maturity type. Early maturing types start depositing fat at an earlier age and can be market ready at a live mass of 380 to 400 kg. Late maturing type can reach market readiness at a live mass of 500kg or more.
Animals can be placed in the feedlot at any age, usually after weaning. In practice animals tend to arrive at feedlots shortly after weaning (7 – 9 months of age), as yearlings (12 to 18 months of age) or a two and a half of age. In most feedlots there is no differentiation in feeding regime between animals of different ages and it has been found that irrespective of the age, animals tend to gain about 150 kg and are ready for slaughter.
Young animals, adapt to pen fattening better and convert feed more efficiently than older stock and are therefore more preferable for pen fattening. Cows and adult oxen are poor feed converters but they fatten earlier and should be fed a shorter time or poorer diets to keep costs low. Within each animal age group there are minimum induction and slaughter weights to be aimed at.
Females are earlier maturing than steers and steers in turn are earlier maturing than bulls. Heifers have a voluntary feed intake 7% lower than that of steers of the same age and breed, but have a higher feed conversion ratio, finish sooner and their corresponding finish masses are 10 – 15% lower than that of steers. Hence they should be fed for a shorter time to reduce fat deposition. Leaner animals are best to feed due to higher feed intake and better feed conversion.
The feedlot ration must be balanced in respect of nutrient content, must be matched to the type of animal feed and should be the most cost effective ration available at the time of feeding. Dietary aspects bearing on the success of pen fattening include feed composition, digestibility, palatability and intake. Energy sources include maize grain, snap corn, sorghum, wheat bran and maize bran.
Optimum performance in pens is obtained with diets containing 13% crude protein portioned as 60 – 65% RDP and 35 – 40% by-pass protein; 70 – 80% TDN and 11.5% MJ/kg ME. For maize- based diets. 20% roughage if the norm but may be lowered to 15% for higher performance. It can also be included at higher levels of 30 – 35% for older animals, which convert feed less efficiently, for laminitis prone animals, and when longer feeding periods are planned.
Keeping records of animal performance for monitoring results is very important. Best results are obtained when performance benchmark include daily live weight gain in the range of 1.2 – 1.6 kg (average of 1.4 kg) per day and feed conversion efficiency of 7:1 and a feed over carcass weight gain of 11:1. The services of a nutritionist (Animal Scientist) are usually required for ration balancing, monitoring feed quality and managing costs of feed ingredients.
The daily running of a feedlot is the major task of the feedlot manager. This includes ensuring that animals have access to a feed free choice, a continuous supply of fresh clean water, animals are processed and adapted on arrival and that animals are marketed when ready.
Activities Prior and During
Supplementation of animals prior to putting them in the pens will get them used to eating concentrates and boost animal growth to achieve target induction masses.
Animals should be dipped and dosed a day or two before penning
Give a vitamin A injection and growth stimulants may be implanted before penning
On arrival at a feedlot it is good practice to group animals according to sex, and type and breed because larger animals tend to bully smaller animals and keep them away from feed troughs
Animals must be adapted to the pen fattening diet slowly, otherwise they will develop acidosis. This can be done through supplying a separate source of roughage (in addition to normal diet) which is reduced over a 10- day period. Alternatively, this can be done by rationing the diet. Animals will start on 25% of requirements and feed is increased gradually until ad lib on day 10.
Identify and number the animals for record keeping purposes
The initial weight of animals should be recorded, preferably after 7 to 10 days in the feedlot. At this time, careful observation can identify poor performers and these can, at a next weighing which ideally takes place two to three weeks later, be culled if the mass gains confirm the earlier observations.
Horned animals are a problem. Dehorning sets an animal back a great deal, and this reduces losses through damage of other animals and bruising. It is best to refrain from buying in animals that have not been properly dehorned.
Disease such as rumen stasis, acidosis, laminitis and urinary calculi can be a problem in a feedlot. Prevention is better than cure in a feedlot operation. The services of a veterinarian or animal scientist to advise on disease prevention and the treatment of sick animals is a cost well justified. However, one still need to keep your veterinary equipment well stocked with such drugs as ammonium chloride, hypo (Na thio-sulphate), activated charcoal, vinegar, brown sugar, bicarbonate of soda, veterinary milk of magnesia, Epsom salts and some antibiotics in case of outbreaks of the above and other health conditions. Slurry disposal is a major issue in most feedlots and warrants attention.
Waste can be wet or solid and, if not properly taken care of results in fly and pest manifestation. Flies and insects must be combated in feedlots because they worry animals and increase stress which has a negative effect on the growth rate. A feature of crowded accommodation is the rapid spread of infectious diseases. A feedlot manager needs to be aware of the potential danger of diseases, especially infective diseases such as IBR which can spread through a feedlot at a very rapid rate and even if mortalities are relatively low, profits are eroded by depressed animal performance. Although deaths occur in feedlots, where losses exceed 2% prompt action must be taken to find and eliminate the cause(s) of the mortalities in order to minimize losses.
Filling the feedlot
To keep a feedlot enterprise running, a continuous income is needed. The only way this can be achieved is by having livestock to sell all the time. This is difficult part of feedlot, because animals remain in a feedlot for 90 to 120 days. The feedlot manager must therefore predict market demand, and consequently predict selling price at least three months ahead. A continuous source of feeders is needed, but may not always be available.
Livestock can be obtained directly from farmers or be bought by private treaty through an agent or at livestock auctions. Where a buy-in-feedlot system is used, buyers must be experienced in evaluating the potential for fattening of different types of animal (maturity, type, age, sex) in relation to the market demand (price) of different grades of carcass. Funds to buy in animals must be available at all times. A lack of funds to buy in animals when priced are favourable could lose an opportunity to make a profit.
Alternative ways to Finish Cattle
Feeding cattle in order to obtain the right amount of fat on and in the muscle, and a higher carcass mass, can be done in many ways. The most common are frequently common practices include:
Finishing off the Veld
Usually steers have to remain on the veld until they are at least two years old before suitable carcass fat content and live mass is reached. Cows are frequently fattened on good summer veld and achieve good finish in a reasonably short period of time. Animals are usually sold in late summer before they start losing body condition and weight.
Finishing off Planted Pastures
Planted pastures can be used for fattening and growing out animals and the growth rates achieved are better than on veld. For instance, weaners (7-9 months) go on to annual rye grass pasture at weaning in autumn and a ready for market by Christmas. Summer pastures such as kikuyu can also be used, but this practice is often not economic because feeding starts in spring when the price of feeder is relatively high and finished animals are only ready in autumn, when beef prices are relatively low.
Finishing in pens
Animals are kept in pens or small paddocks and fed on high grain diets over 90 – 150 days before they are taken for slaughter. This is the preferred route by abattoirs.
On-Farm Feedlots – animals are fattened in pen or large paddocks, using bought-in or home-grown feeds. The animals for fattening can be home produced (breeding and growing out operations) or purchased (Buying-in and growing out operations).
Commercial Feedlots – these are run mostly on the abattoir and other large scale farms. The feed lotter, often a speculator, buys animals for the feedlot. Ownership of the animals, and therefore the risk associated with feeding are the responsibility of the feedlot owner.
Custom Feedlots – here the feedlot operator does not buy animals, but the owner of the animal sends them to be fattened at a fee. In this case, risk usually remains with the owner of the animal.