In our last post, we talked about a cow-calf farm. The goal on a cow-calf farm is to have a new crop of calves every year, and to sell the calves sometime around 4-8 months old. Once the calves are sold, they typically go to a feedlot.
The goal at a feedlot is to, well, feed the calves a lot. We want to get the calves to grow to around 1000 pounds to be ready to sell for beef. (Then they are called “finished” cattle.) On a grain-fed farm, this will usually be around the time the cattle are 18 months old.
This steer is just about finished. I took this photo about 6 weeks ago, and he has probably been sold already.
On a grain-fed feedlot, the cattle are mainly fed grain. On this farm, they are fed creep feed, which is a mixture of corn with vitamins and minerals added. Most feedlots will feed about the same type of thing. This self feeder lets the cattle eat just about as much as they want. The farmer fills the self feeder from the top (the big bin that is labeled “creep/self feeder”), and the feed spills out the bottom into the tray. The cattle have an all-you-can-eat buffet all day long. This one is on wheels so it can easily be moved to a different location in the lot, or to a different lot.
You’ll notice that these cattle are not on pasture like the cattle on the cow-calf farm we looked at last time. These cattle are on a dry lot. Although during spring in Indiana, it is usually more like a mud lot. This farm has different pens for different ages and weights of animals. You can see a couple of cattle in the background – these are younger and smaller than the cattle in the front of the photo. They are separated so each animal can get the right amount of feed for its growth. If you put a small steer in the same pen with a big steer, the big kid will bully the little kid, and he won’t get enough to eat. So we keep them in groups of their own size (sort of like grade school).
They do get fed some hay (you can see the end of a hay bale in the bale ring – this one has a green ring around the top towards the back of the photo), but they are not on pasture. Remember, the goal of this kind of farm is to get the cattle to reach their finished weight as fast as is reasonable. Feeding too much roughage (hay or grass) will lengthen the amount of time that it takes the cattle to get to their finished weight. The cattle (and the rumen microbes) can use the energy in the creep feed to grow and gain weight more efficiently (and faster) if that is the main part of their diet, instead of roughage like we use on cow-calf farms.
The cattle on this farm do have more space than I was able to show here without getting into the pens with the cattle or heading out into the mud. While they are more confined than the cows on the cow-calf farm, they still do have plenty of space, food and water, and shelter.