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• Water ■ Energy Energy nutrients provide “fuel” for your animal. Aside from water, energy makes up the largest portion of a steer’s diet. Once digested, energy nutrients are carried via the blood stream to different parts of the body. Energy is required for muscle movement and produces heat to keep an animal warm.
Carbohydrates are the main group of energy nutrients. Grains, such as corn and oats, contain carbohydrates in the form of sugars and starches. These simple carbohydrates are fairly easy to digest. The cellulose found in hay, silage and pasture is a more complex carbohydrate and more difficult for most animals to digest. Ruminants are specifically designed to digest cellulose in the 7 largest compartment of their stomach, the rumen. Microorganisms (protozoa and bacteria) found in the rumen digest the cellulose, converting it to sugars, which are in turn digested easily.
Fat is another group of energy nutrients. Although the energy in fat is more concentrated, (2.25 times more than carbohydrates), it shouldn’t be used as a main energy source for cattle. In fact, mature steers probably don’t need any fat added to their diet at all. Too much fat or oils can make them sick.
■ Protein Proteins are important for growth. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. The number and arrangement of amino acids determine which type of protein is built. All tissues both internal and external, including horn, skin, hair and hoof growth require proteins.
Calves and pregnant or lactating cows require more protein than mature steers. High protein feeds like alfalfa or soybean meal are generally more expensive and cattle will convert protein they don’t need into energy. Because of the higher cost of protein feeds, you will not want to feed more protein than necessary.
■ Vitamins Vitamins are needed in relatively small amounts in a steer’s diet, but they are just as important as other nutrients. Each vitamin is chemically different and has a specific function in the body.
Vitamin A is needed for healthy tissue linings and the nasal passages, eyes and lungs. Carotene – green and yellow in grass in hay, supplies Vitamin A.
Vitamin D supports bone growth. It is called the “sunshine vitamin” because exposure to sunlight allows animals to convert a compound found in the body to Vitamin D.
Vitamin E works with the mineral Selenium, to develop muscle. Vitamin K is important for blood clotting. B-complex vitamins and Vitamin C are not typically supplemented in cattle rations as the rumen microbes will usually synthesize these vitamins.
■ Minerals Like vitamins, minerals are needed in very small amounts and are essential to the well-being of your steer. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sulfur and sodium are macro minerals and are sometimes fed as supplements in the forms of dicalcium phosphate, magnesium oxide or calcium carbonate. Iron, manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, iodine and selenium are trace minerals and are required in minute amounts. These minerals are typically fed through a purchased trace mineral salt mixture to provide the proper balance.
■ Water Water is the single most important nutrient and often the one that’s taken for granted. In addition to regulating body temperature, water makes up the largest single part of a steer’s body and is required for many body functions.
Clean, fresh water should be available to your steers every day. New England weather is cold in the winter so be sure to change or thaw frozen water at least twice a day.
Feeds Cattle feeds are typically divided into two types: roughages and concentrates. Roughages include hay, silage, straw, pasture, corn stalks and other crop residue. Roughages are high in fiber and typically lower in energy than concentrates. Concentrates include grains (corn, oats, etc.) and the by-products from processing other foods like wheat bran, distillers waste, etc. These feeds are high in energy and sometimes high in protein (soybean meal, cottonseed meal). Concentrates tend to be higher priced feeds than roughages.
8 When determining what and how much feed your steer will consume, feeds are often converted to a Dry Matter basis (DM). Dry Matter refers to the percent of dry feed left when all of the water is removed from a feed stuff.
A balanced diet for working steers depends on several things: age of animal, breed, size, body condition and feed availability. Cattle typically consume 2 to 2.5% of their body weight in DM feed. Calves less than 500 lbs. may eat up to 3% of their body weight.
Table 1: Suggested Feed Intake
Feeding the Calf As a teamster, you most likely will be purchasing your teams of working steers from area farms, unless you live on a dairy or beef operation. Because of this, you most likely will not be present for the birth of your steers, nor be able to give them their first and most important meal – colostrum.
Colostrum is the first milk produced by a cow after she calves and it is loaded with proteins, vitamins, minerals and antibodies. These antibodies can be passed on to the calf in a form of passive immunity, which will help the calf survive. The antibodies can help the calf defend itself against diseases in the area, but they can only be absorbed and be effective in the first 6 hours of life, so you must rely on the farmer to administer this first and very important source of immunity.
After you bring your calves home, you may begin them on a strict diet of high quality milk replacer. Milk Newborn steer drinking colostrum.
replacer can be purchased from your local grain store in powder form and mixed with warm water for maximum solubility. The highest quality milk replacer is powdered milk made from real milk for easier digestibility.
Feed your calves twice a day at scheduled feeding times according to the proportions recommended by the milk replacer manufacturer. Grain and hay should be offered free choice.
Weaning should occur at between 8 and 14 weeks of age. Weaning is the progressive decrease of amounts of milk replacer, and gradual increase of calf starter grain mix and free choice high quality hay. Follow instructions per the milk replacer manufacturer on weaning schedule.
By three months of age, calves can be introduced to a mineral salt block for their mineral needs.
High quality hay should be continued although excess hay can cause hay bellies, which are undesirable in steers.
Fresh, clean water should be made available at all times and is essential to the health of your team.
9 Feeding growing steers Feeding a growing ration to steers will permit your animal to grow rather then fatten up. If your steers were being raised for beef, this would be a different ration. Growing steers will do quite well on a diet of good quality hay or pasture. However, if the hay or pasture doesn’t have a level of protein that is at least around 12-14%, you may have to feed a protein supplement in small amounts (.5 to 1.0 lb. per day). Alfalfa or any hay that contains a legume (clover, alfalfa, trefoil, etc.) is typically high enough in protein to feed a growing steer without supplement. It’s probably a good idea to have some of your hay analyzed for nutrient content if you are not sure.
Growing steers may be fed grain as well, but you shouldn’t feed too much grain, so that rumen function remains normal. Grains can be fed at around 4 lbs. per day and gradually increased (.5 to 1 lb. every other day) until you reach 40-45% (maximum) of the diet. If you were feeding for an aggressive growth (as in beef cattle rations), you might feed up to 60-70% concentrate, but this is typically cost prohibitive for working steers, not necessary, and may cause health problems.
When selecting hay for your team, make sure it’s free of mold and excessive dust. Break open a couple of bales when you are inspecting the hay and don’t buy hay that feels hot on the inside or smells musty or moldy. Good quality hay should have leaves attached to the stems but not many seed heads present. Seed heads and mature flowers in hay indicate a later harvest and that the nutrients aren’t as high as they might have been if harvested at peak time.
Feeding the mature team Feeding mature steers can be as simple as watching growth and body condition and adjusting the diet accordingly. A lean or underweight older animal may require increased feed or a higher quality feed for short periods of time. Generally, older animals need less protein, less energy more fiber, and consumption of a lower percentage of their body weight each day (around 2%). Refer to Table 1 to determine how much feed your steer should be consuming. Once mature, your steers will do well being fed strictly hay or pasture. Fresh water and mineral salt blocks should be available free choice throughout the life of a team.
Monitor the weight of your steers by actually weighing if you have access to scales or estimating weight with a girth tape.
Length (inches) from pinbone to point of shoulder (A to B) x [2 x heart girth (C)] = estimated weight (lbs.) 300 By measuring and recording the weight of your animals periodically, you can adjust the amount of feed for one or the other to keep them close to the same size.
10 Health Normal vs. Sick Cattle After you have spent time with your team of working steers, you will come to know them quite well. You will be able to recognize their body language and temperament and make judgements
on their health based on how they appear from day to day. The normal steer will exhibit the following behavior and appearance:
• Alert and attentive eyes/ears
• Eating/chewing cud
• Drinking water
• Healthy, shiny coat
• Defecation (normal consistency)
• Normal posture
• Walks/moves easily
• Is quiet
With experience you will be able to determine what problems require veterinary assistance.
Although not every health problem may require calling a veterinarian, you should always contact your 4-H leader or veterinarian if you aren’t sure of the appropriate treatment.
Taking a temperature If you suspect your steer may be running a fever (ears are especially hot), you will need to take the steers temperature before becoming alarmed. The normal body temperature of cattle runs around 101.5 F, but can range from 100.4-102.8 F. If you call a veterinarian, they will typically ask you for the temperature of the sick animal.
Temperatures exceeding 103.0 F should raise some concern and may require veterinary assistance.
11 Using a veterinary rectal thermometer, first shake down the mercury, then insert the thermometer, bulb first, about 2-3 inches into the rectum (be sure to leave enough thermometer to hang on to!) Do not force the thermometer, as this may cause breaking of glass or the rectal wall.
Keep the thermometer out of fecal matter or gas pockets to produce an accurate reading.
Hold the thermometer inside the rectum for three minutes before taking it out for a reading. For safety, have a string attached to the thermometer that hangs out of the rectum, preferably attached by a clip to the hair on the animal.
Always clean the thermometer with warm (not hot) water and soap and return it to the medicine cabinet for safe keeping. Call your veterinarian if necessary.
Common afflictions Once you have determined the steer’s temperature, you can look at the other symptoms he is exhibiting. There are many diseases and afflictions that occur with cattle. Listed here are a few
common diseases that teamsters should be aware of:
■ Foot Rot Foot rot can cause the tissues between the hooves to become inflamed, causing severe lameness.
A bacterium (Fusobacterium necrophorum) is thought to cause this disease.
Signs and Symptoms: This disease occurs during all seasons but tends to be most prevalent during wet weather. However, foot rot can occur in dry weather, particularly when cattle have access to stagnant water. Once a break in the skin occurs, organisms in stagnant pools readily infect the wound. One or more feet may be affected at one time. The best form of prevention is to practice good hygiene.
Treatment: Systemic and local treatment with antibiotics and sulfonamides usually shortens the course of the disease. Other procedures that may speed recovery are cleaning the foot, applying a protective dressing and removing the necrotic (dead and decaying) mass.
Prevention: Keep animals in clean dry environment. Restrict access to high risk areas known to hold stagnant water.
■ Bloat Bloat is a complex, metabolic disorder that develops when gas production in the rumen exceeds the animal’s ability to remove gas by eructation (belching). Because natural rates of gas formation in the rumen are very high, this imbalance can occur very rapidly. In both pasture and feedlot bloat, eructation is commonly inhibited by frothy or foamy rumen contents where much of the gas remains trapped and forms very small bubbles. These bubbles expand the rumen contents and interfere with nerves that control the opening into the esophagus. Approximately 10% of bloat cases are caused by “free gas” bloat in which gas production simply exceeds eructation.
When lush, young forage materials (pasture bloat) or finely processed grain are ingested, microbes attack the cellulose and soluble carbohydrate immediately. Initial rate of energy release is very high. This rapid availability of feed energy stimulates a burst of microbial activity that generates large amounts of gas. Gas is then trapped in rumen fluids to produce foam. Trapped gases elevate rumen contents, fill the rumen cavity and interfere with esophageal functions.
When viewed from the rear, animals will appear very full or puffed up on the left (rumen) side.
As bloat progresses, both sides of the animal become distended and breathing becomes labored.
Ultimately, death can occur.
12 Treatment: If your cattle exhibit bloat symptoms call a veterinarian immediately.
Prevention: Never change your cattle’s diet suddenly. If you are introducing your team to pasture for the first time in the spring or even to a new pasture with different forage species, do so gradually. Be sure to feed a combination of forages (pasture, hay or silage) and grain (corn, oats, barely) and not strictly a grain diet.