Nutritional Strategies for Receiving and Feeding Early-Weaned Calves

Francis L. Fluharty, Department Head and Professor, Department of Animal and Dairy Science, University of Georgia

  • Provide clean water and grass-legume hay directly off the truck and allow cattle a rest period before processing them. Adding an electrolyte solution to the water calves drink immediately off the truck is a good way to restore needed sodium and potassium salts.
  • Receiving diets should have .3 ppm Selenium and 1.0% Potassium on a dry matter basis, for the first two weeks, because of low feed intake. After that, Potassium should not be higher than .7% of the diet on a dry matter basis.
  • Provide 1.0 to 1.5 ft of bunk space per calf if possible.
  • Urea can be added up to .5% of diet dry matter, but higher levels may depress feed intake.
  • Ionophores should not be used (at the upper levels they are approved for) during the first 14 days due to reductions in feed intake, however, lower levels may be beneficial in high-grain diets.
  • Research at The Ohio State University has shown that feed intake on stressed calves is severely reduced during the first week. Therefore, receiving diets for calves should be approximately 16-18% crude protein, on a dry matter basis, for the first seven days. The protein concentration used should be increased to the upper levels of this range with highly stressed calves that have very low feed intakes. After the first two weeks, feed intake increases and the crude protein can be dropped to 14% of diet dry matter. After third week, the crude protein level can be reduced to 12.5% to 13%, since the cattle should be on full feed by then.
  • After cattle have reached approximately 1.5% of body weight in feed intake (dry matter basis), increase the amount of feed offered every other day. Increases should be no more than 5% of intake. High-concentrate diets require that calves are brought on feed more slowly than high-forage diets. Bringing calves onto feed more slowly will help prevent acidosis and reduce nutritional stress.
  • Soybean meal may be the protein source of choice due to cost and availability, but using a source of higher rumen bypass protein such as distillers grain in combination with soybean meal is good.
  • Feeding hay during the receiving period reduces the energy density of the diet. Intake is the main problem during this feeding phase. Therefore, a 60% to 70% concentrate diet should be fed to ensure the calves have adequate energy intakes (Remember that corn silage is approximately 50% concentrate and 50% roughage on a dry matter basis).
  • Microbial data from The Ohio State University indicates that cattle do not have a need for hay in order to increase their bacterial numbers after feed and water deprivation and transportation. In fact, a higher energy, protein dense diet provides the bacteria with more substrate to grow on.
  • Receiving diets should be formulated to provide the animal with the actual amount of protein required (in grams) rather than a percentage of protein in the diet during the first two weeks. Therefore, the level of feed intake should determine the percent protein fed.
  • Corn silage is fine, but it MUST be kept fresh. Clean out feed bunks daily and remember not to push feed to the back of the bunks where calves can’t reach it. Keep feed about in the middle of the feed bunk.

Feed Bunk Management and Feed Intake Control: “The most important operation in the feedlot”

Defined as the Continue reading

Beef calf weaning management to prepare your calves for future success

Jerad Jaborek, Michigan State University Extension Beef Feedlot Systems Educator

Fenceline weaning is a great choice that allows calves to be maintained on high quality pasture directly across the fence from the dams.

Ask two or more beef cattle veterinarians about weaning beef calf management, also referred to as preconditioning, and you are bound to get different recommendations for protocols to follow. This does not mean one is right or wrong, it just means there are several options to accomplish the same goals. Recommendations may vary due to calf age, labor, nutrition, facilities, environment, pathogen risk, marketing plans, etc.

Regardless of the approach, the main goal should always be a low-stress weaning and preconditioning protocol that prepares calves for targeted growth and health through the next phases of production.

As you plan for weaning, the first step is to . . .

Continue reading Beef calf weaning management to prepare your calves for future success

Residual Feed Intake (RFI) . . . a Selection Tool?

Relationships between feed efficiency, scrotal circumference and semen quality traits in yearling bulls
– Hafla, A. Lancaster, G. Carstens, D. Forrest, J. Fox, T. Forbes, Mike Davis (OSU), R. Randel, and J. Holloway
Journal of Animal Science. 2012.90:3937–3944

Residual feed intake (RFI) is a measure of feed efficiency that is independent of growth traits.  Seed stock producers are adopting technology to measure daily intake to assess feed efficiency of growing bulls and heifers.  Across all studies, bulls with low RFI phenotypes consumed 20% less dry matter DM and had 10% less backfat but had similar average daily gain, scrotal circumference and semen quality traits compared with high-RFI bulls.  Inclusion of RFI in selection indexes will enable selection for feed efficiency with Continue reading

Be Mindful of Heat Stress to Maintain Stocker Calf Gains

– Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, University of Kentucky, Department of Animal & Food Sciences

Continued drought conditions will continue to limit forage growth in some regions.

As I am writing this, bluegrass has flowered, and I’ve seen fescue plants with flowers emerging. This spring has been a bit cool slowing grass growth, but warmer temperatures will certainly begin to kick grass growth into high gear within the next couple of weeks. Precipitation and soil moisture continues to be a struggle in the western half the United States as shown in the Monthly Drought Outlook figure from the National Drought Monitoring website. These continued drought conditions will continue to limit forage growth in these regions.

Forage availability is a key driver of stocker calf performance followed by forage quality. As we move through the spring months and begin to see temperatures increase, forage growth slows. Previous research demonstrates that the photosynthesis of plants is negatively impacted by increasing temperatures. Photosynthetic rates of tall fescue can be reduced when temperatures reach 86F/77F degrees Fahrenheit, day/night. Areas in Kentucky had eight days in May during 2021 that had daytime high temperatures of 86 or higher. Several days in June, July and August are normally going to be 86 F or warmer. These warmer temperatures slow forage growth of our perennial cool-season forages. More importantly, research has demonstrated that Continue reading

Assessing trace mineral status in ruminants, and factors that affect measurements of trace mineral status

– J.W. Spears, V.L.N. Brandao J. Heldt, June 2022. Applied Animal Science (summarized by Steve Boyles, OSU Extension Beef Specialist)

Summary of Article

When assessing mineral status, it is always good to analyze the diet or forages being consumed for the mineral of interest as well as other minerals that may affect its requirement. Liver is the best indicator of both low and excess Cu status. Plasma Cu concentrations do not decrease below normal values until liver Cu stores are mostly depleted, but a plasma Cu concentration less than 0.4 mg/L suggests Cu deficiency. Severe Zn deficiency can be diagnosed based on extremely low plasma or serum Zn concentrations (less than 0.5 mg/L) or on clinical signs of Zn deficiency that respond to Zn supplementation. It is important to note that infections or acute stress may cause plasma Zn concentrations to temporarily decrease to levels consistent with Zn deficiency. There is currently no reliable indicator of marginal Zn deficiency. Several criteria have been measured in an attempt to assess Mn status. However, no criteria have been demonstrated to accurately predict Mn deprivation. Whole blood or liver Se concentrations are useful in assessing Se status. When interpreting whole blood or liver Se concentrations, it is important to consider whether dietary Se is being derived from organic or inorganic sources.

Conclusions and Applications

The most appropriate measurement criteria to assess trace mineral status in ruminants depend on Continue reading

Feed Outlook: Corn

– Chris Zoller, Extension Educator, ANR, Tuscarawas County

The United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (USDA ERS) released its Feed Outlook on May 18, 2022.  The report ( provides domestic and international estimates for the 2021/2022 marketing year and projections for the 2022/2023 marketing year based on the recent World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate (WASDE) report.  This article summarizes domestic corn production and use.

Reduced Production

According to the May 12 WASDE (, U.S. corn production for the 2022/2023 marketing year is expected to be four percent less than the 2021/2022 marketing year estimate.  Fewer planted acres and poor weather conditions are to blame.

In the March Prospective Planting report from USDA, U.S. corn acres are Continue reading

10 Tips for Managing High Feed Prices

– Dr. Katie VanValin, Assistant Extension Professor, University of Kentucky

We have all heard the phrase, “it’s the little things”. The saying applies to the beef industry as well. There is no single management practice, feed ration, or genetic trait that drives profitability. Profitability is really a summation of lots of little things coming together to create a profitable system. Whenever profitability is challenged whether from greater input prices like we are seeing now, or lower calf prices, I start to get questions about decreasing feed costs. This should come as no surprise, as feed costs are one of the biggest expenses facing beef cattle operations. Below is a list of some of those little things, that can really add up!

1) Preg checking: Our cows should be working for the operation. Thus, an open cow is one that is not pulling her weight on a cow-calf operation. Today producers have more options than ever before for preg checking their herds. New chute side blood tests can be completed right on the farm in about 10 minutes, there are also commercial labs that will run blood tests giving you results in just a couple of days, and of course there is always ultrasound which gives you a real time answer but does depend on scheduling and availability. Culling open cows not only decreases purchased feed costs but can also make our available forage resources go farther as well.

2) Buy in bulk: The ability to buy purchased feeds in bulk can allow producers to take advantage of bulk discounts offered by many feed retailers. Also having the ability to Continue reading

The Cheapest Mineral Isn’t Really Cheap

– Francis L. Fluharty, Ph.D., Professor and Head, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences – University of Georgia

The major nutritional requirements are: water, energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins. In many cases, beef producers do a good job of providing adequate water, energy, and protein. However, many beef producers buy ‘cheap’ minerals, ignoring the fact that the availability of the minerals in the oxide form in many of these mixes are only 10 to 20% as absorbable by the animal in the sulfate, chloride, organic, or chelated forms (when minerals are metals bound to an organic compound such as an amino acid in zinc methionine or organic selenium in selenomethionine; Spears, 2003) in more expensive mineral mixes. The advantage of more available forms of minerals are seen when stress increases. Consider the fact that weather can be a stress, whether it’s extreme heat or cold, and that working cattle at breeding, vaccination, and weaning can be stressors. So, why do so many producers buy minerals that don’t provide the best nutrition to the animal when they need it most, and buy the cheapest mineral instead? In many cases, it’s because we think in terms of tons rather than days, and a ton of mineral seems expensive relative to a ton of hay, but not when you consider that a ton of mineral with an anticipated intake of 4 oz per day will provide feed for 8,000 animal days. I can’t imagine a beef producer going to their truck dealership and asking for the truck with the least power when it’s under a load, or asking for the truck with the weakest transmission, but we do this same thing when we buy minerals with the poorest absorption during times of stress, then we buy additional hay, or grain, or treat sick newborn calves, or blame the . . .

Continue reading The Cheapest Mineral Isn’t Really Cheap

Weather and Climate, and the Impact on Beef Cattle Performance

The second session of the 2022 Ohio State University Extension Beef Team’s Virtual Beef School was hosted via ZOOM on February 23rd. During that second session the focus was squarely on the weather and climate including recent trends, speculation on what our weather in the coming years might look like, how the performance of our cattle are impacted by the mud we’ve experienced in recent winters, and considerations for managing those weather related performance concerns. Featured speakers for the evening were Dr. Aaron Wilson who serves as the OSU Extension Climatologist, and OSU Animal Sciences’ PhD candidate Kirsten Nickles.

What follows below is that evenings’ presentations in their entirety.

Beef Cow Nutritional Strategies During the Last Trimester

On February 9, 2022, OSU Extension Beef Specialist Dr. Steve Boyles was guest presenter for the beef subgroup of Cornell Cooperative Extension Livestock Program Work Team. Dr. Boyles focused his presentation on strategies for efficiently feeding beef cows during their third trimester of gestation. That presentation in its entirety can be found linked here.