Finishing Strong: Pre-Harvest Management Strategies

Written by: Simon Kern, M.S. 

We are currently in the thick of our annual climb in U.S. beef production and fed cattle marketings which seasonally begins in April and runs through June. While most producers devote a considerable amount of time and effort into starting cattle on feed (and rightfully so), little attention is often paid to cattle once they hit the typical “cruise control” point where they are on a full-fed finishing ration and most health concerns are in the rear-view mirror. The 150 plus days cattle spend on feed can all be undone by a poor finish; no different than your favorite baseball team blowing a 5 run lead in the ninth inning. While the bulk of the work may be done, there are still management strategies to keep in mind to ensure cattle finish strong and decrease the odds of having one of those “what in the world happened?” moments when looking back at your grade sheets and closeout reports.

Pre-sort loads or sets of loads 30-45 days prior to marketing

If you are not following an all-out strategy with your cattle marketing, pre-sorting is the number one strategy to implement on your lot to improve your pre-harvest management. Cattle are subject to a bevy of stressors the day they are shipped from the yard. Relocating one of these stressors to a time several weeks prior to transportation allows a much more relaxed and predictable load-out process on a day of your choosing (not wet and sloppy pen conditions on the day of load-out). This should reduce the likelihood of dark cutters and discounts due to trim loss from bruising. It also allows for the re-establishment of a new pen social order and the recovery of the bodyweight lost in the sorting process which means more pounds on the rail and may even improve grading percent. Furthermore, feed additives such as Hydro-Flexx and Hydro-Lac can be fed solely to those cattle shipping on a given date rather than only a small portion. Pre-sorting does require additional planning and pens, but the savings in feed additives coupled with an improvement in both pounds sold and the value of those pounds offers an excellent return on investment.

Be mindful of the weather

Weather can wreak all sorts of havoc on cattle in the days and weeks prior to shipment. Heat stress can severely hinder dry matter intake robbing cattle of both pounds and grading potential. Severe heat over multiple days can easily lead to death and the fat, heavy, and highly valuable cattle on your yard scheduled to ship next week are the most likely victims. Hot spells of 90°+ are all too common in the Midwest and can sneak up after a week of temperatures in the 50’s. Working with your Form-A-Feed representative to develop a comprehensive heat mitigation plan which involves facilities and management strategies is a must.

Wet weather can cause decreases in yield due to excessive tag accumulation in most feeding facilities. Ensuring proper bedding and pen maintenance can help to mitigate this yield depression. Snow and severe cold can also create unexpected problems with cattle pre-harvest as shivering will deplete muscle glycogen and increase the likelihood of dark cutters. While heavy cattle are not the most likely victims of cold stress, it is nonetheless important to provide these cattle with adequate facilities to protect them during these events.

Inventory

This may seem like a rather vague concept, but it can be one of the most critical as it encompasses many items. Take inventory of the number of days remaining on implant payout and plan your marketings accordingly. If cattle are lighter than you expected at the time of implant payout or you plan on taking them to a heavier end weight, re-implanting may be required to get through. Having cattle run “naked” late in the feeding period will yield some very humbling performance numbers.

Also be sure to maintain a sufficient inventory of supplements and feed additives through the end of the feeding period. While the consequences of running short on vitamins and trace minerals for the last few days on feed are likely minimal, you would be in for a rude awakening to find your pen of heifers riding and bellowing because you ran short of MGA®. While the effects of pulling or running short on other additives such as Optaflexx® or Rumensin® may not be as obvious, they can still result in impaired performance, digestive upsets, overeating, and even death.

A lot of time, effort, and dollars are put into a calf to take it from day one in the feedlot to hitting the highway on a trailer as a fat steer. While the finish line may be in site, proper management over the last few weeks of the feeding phase is critical to ensure all your good work does not become undone.

Please contact your Form-A-Feed Representative or send us a message via our “Talk with a Beef Specialist” link for assistance in developing a pre-harvest management plan which best fits your feedyard.