Feeding Systems for Beef Cows

There's Got To Be A Better Way!

During my travels around the province I've had the chance to see many feeding systems at work in the beef cow business, as well as other sectors, including new dairy, beef feedlot, sheep and lamb feedlot facilities. I've come to the conclusion that there are many poor feeding systems on Ontario cow-calf farms. Overall, the understanding in our cow-calf sector of labour efficiency as it relates to feeding, is poor.

But I hate being negative ! There are many opportunities to improve labour, feed and cost efficiencies by improving winter feeding systems in the Ontario cow/calf industry. So let me focus on the many positive aspects that I have been exposed to …

The Challenge Of Feeding Systems

In Ontario, umbrella recommendations are difficult to make. Keeping in mind that pasture is the cheapest and fastest way to feed, the issue of summer versus winter infrastructure is critical. If a farm truly maximizes the pasture resource (and minimizes annual feed cost) how much effort or money is justified in creating a winter feeding facility? There are some issues to consider such as ration cost, labour savings, feed wastage and safety. For example in a previous issue of VB, the idea of commodity based rations to reduce hay use this past winter was explored. How does a person utilize those products that are so different from each other, or the typical beef cow ration? The answer is a flexible feeding system; and my favourite example is the fence-line feeder.

Why Fence-line Feeders?

Drive-through feeders are among the most time and labour efficient way of delivering large amounts of bulky feeds (which a cow ration is). The fence-line concept can be implemented in numerous ways, but its flexibility remains constant. The system can accommodate any forage, which is the cornerstone ingredient. It can use big bales or bulk feed, round or square bales, wet or dry ingredients, silage or dry hay. The down side is capital investment, and perhaps inflexibility of location depending on the wintering site(s) used.

photo showing cows fence-line feeding

Figure 1. Fence-line Feeding is Fast and Efficient.

photo showing winter feeding paddock

Figure 2. This permanent winter feeding Paddock would benefit from a fence-line feeder

How Does Your System Compare?

  • Forage feeding time should be no more than 15 seconds per cow per day
  • One person should be able to feed forage in a system with no additional help
  • If concentrates are fed, they should be delivered even more rapidly than forage (or preferably with the forage)
  • Does the system risk animals being contact with machinery during feed delivery? Such systems pose animal safety risks and are less time efficient
  • Does the feeding system depend on people being in contact with animals during feed delivery? Such systems create human safety risks, especially in limit-fed situations!

What's the Bottom Line?

Simple systems are the most effective to ensure success. Although other systems can perform well, fence-line designs with ample bunk space allow for maximum flexibility with regards to forage type (silage vs. hay, bulk vs. bales), commodity feeding options and restricted feeding (limit-fed, or reduced hay) programs. And, not to be overlooked, they are safe for both the farmer and hungry cows!

 


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca