Raising Calf-Fed Holsteins: Feeding Transition

Proper feedlot nutrition is essential for optimizing calf-fed Holsteins raised for beef production.
Raising Calf-Fed Holsteins: Feeding Transition - Videos


Pennsylvania land is too expensive to cost-effectively raise Holsteins out on pasture for today’s beef market, and grazing does not ensure adequate nutrition. This video will explore feedlot scenarios to consider when creating a nutritional plan for your calf-fed Holsteins.

Who is this for?

Farmers (primarily dairy farmers) who wish to raise their Holstein calves for beef production as an alternative source of revenue.


Beef cattle nutrition Beef cattle metabolism Beef cattle management Feedlot nutrition and management

More by Tara L. Felix 

View Transcript

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- This is my favorite view in the feedlot because it means cattle are up and eating.

Keeping cattle at the trough is how we will get Holsteins to grow.

It's as simple as that.

But there are nutritional variables to consider when raising Holsteins in the feedlot.

I'm Dr. Tara Felix, the Penn State Extension Beef Specialist.

Today, we're going to discuss providing the proper nutrition for Holstein calves raised for beef production.

One of the reasons that nutrition is a critical topic for Holsteins reared for beef is that the market will no longer support cattle that have been raised for a couple of years out on pasture without much thought to their nutrition.

Holsteins raised on pasture will only have approximately the same value as call cows.

But, by raising Holsteins in the feedlot, we can create an animal that packers and consumers want and will pay a better price for.

Our goal when feeding Holsteins in the feedlot is to end up with animal like this one, a well-muscled, young animal that will provide a quality eating experience.

But how do we get there?

The answer has to do with grain, and more specifically, corn.

Corn is the primary ingredient in US feedlot diets and makes up as much as 80 to 90% of the total diet in most feedlots, whether or not those feedlots are feeding Holsteins or native cattle.

This is because it is an excellent source of energy and cattle fed corn-based diets will grow very quickly and efficiently and deposit fat well.

Generally, Holstein feeding is not all that much different than feeding native beef cattle.

However, Holsteins are less efficient and will eat more food to put on the same amount of weight.

Because of this, feeding a higher energy ration can help improve the growth and performance and carcass characteristics of Holsteins fed in a feedlot.

I would like to compare four feedlot diet scenarios that we commonly find in Holstein programs.

One example of a feedlot diet that can be used to raise Holsteins is a diet containing 70% corn and 10% hay.

This would result in close to 12% crude protein and the high energy density of this diet.

This diet would involve limiting the amount of hay that cattle could consume and ideally blending it in a completely mixed feed.

A scenario that might seem cheaper, where we don't limit hay intake, would be akin to having a round bale hay feeder in a pen with cattle and feeding grain separately.

This would result in cattle selecting as much as 30% of their daily feed intake as hay.

This scenario is tempting because it is easier to manage, but this lower energy density would require about 30 more days in the feedlot and ultimately cost more money, over $5,000 more if we're feeding a group of 100 animals.

This scenario is not recommended for that reason.

The third and cheapest scenario with comparable energy density to the first involves replacing that 10% hay with corn silage.

Corn silage is often a cheaper feed than hay.

Because corn silage can contain up to 50% of its dry matter as corn grain, the 20% dry matter inclusion of silage is nearly comparable to the 10% inclusion of hay.

Again, consider that only half the silage is forage and the other half is grain.

A historically popular choice for Holsteins is a diet of whole shelled corn with a high protein energy pellet supplemented along with that whole shelled corn.

Many companies have these programs and market the supplemental pellets.

This is no doubt the easiest diet to feed to Holsteins, but beware of the price of the pellets and pencil the costs based on realistic animal intakes.

Remember, you want to be seeing cattle up and eating.

And keep these few things in mind.

Holstein cattle need to eat a high energy diet.

Good hay is expensive, and free choice hay decreases the energy of the diet, prolonging days on feed.

Silage is a relatively cheap option, but it must be fed on farm and in sufficient quantities to keep it fresh.

Although costs were not discussed in depth in this video, they are an important consideration in any agricultural enterprise.

Regardless of the diet scenario that you choose, be sure to pay close attention to the added costs of days on feed.

There are many possible feeding scenarios and I recommend you work with a nutritionist to find the best scenario for your calf-fed Holstein operation.


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