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Finish Weights in the U.S. Cattle Industry: Applications for the Cowculator Beef Cattle Diet Evaluation Program.

The amount of feed energy and protein required for a given level of weight gain in growing and finishing cattle is highly dependent on their body composition and degree of maturity. For example, cattle that are extremely fat require more feed energy per unit of weight gain compared to cattle that are thin. Primary factors influencing body composition at a given level of maturity in growing cattle include:

 

  1. Sex (heifers, steers, bulls)
  2. Previous plain of nutrition, rate of weight gain and length of stocker phase.
  3. Mature body weight and frame size.
  4. Genetic potential for growth
  5. Use of growth promoting implants and feed
    additives.

The Cowculator ration evaluation program uses published equations (NASEM, 2016) to calculate the amount of energy and protein needed for each unit of weight gain in growing cattle using an estimated weight at which cattle reach a standard stage of maturity and fatness. The user-provided input for the “Finish Weight” entry (see Fig. 1 below) should represent the “pay weight” (after pencil shrink) at which the cattle are expected to reach 0.6 inches of back fat during the finishing phase.

 

Historical finish weight data from similar genetics and management should be used when available. However, if historical data is not available, the following guidelines can be used to estimate finish weight at 0.6 inches of back fat. Consider that annual average finished cattle weights and carcass weights are increasing at the rate of approximately 6 pounds per year and therefore, this estimate may need to be adjusted accordingly.

 

Placement Weight and Sex

The following tables provide guidance for the effect of initial weight of feeder steers (Table 1) and feeder heifers (Table 2) on finishing performance and weight at harvest. These data were provided by Hitch Enterprises and represent closeouts in the six-year period from 2016 through 2021. Cattle in these lots were implanted and were fed ionophores and beta agonists. These data represent weighted averages across a wide range in age and management system and therefore initial maturity and body composition.

 

Number of Cattle  Initial Weight, lb  Desired Weight, End of Feeding Period, lb Finish Weight, lb Genetic Potential for Growth and Feed Efficiency Ionophore Implant Initial Body Condition 
100 300 400 1400 Above Average  Rumensin Yes 5

Figure 1 - Inputs for Growing and Finishing Cattle

 

Item 600 650 700 750 800 850 900
# Lots 229 539 670 702 575 345 197
Purchase Weight 625 675 725 775 818 863 908
Initial Weight 603 652 701 751 799 847 897
Finish Weight 1343 1383 1402 1422 1445 1458 1483
ADG* 3.22 3.31 3.44 3.52 3.56 3.64 3.73
Feed/Gain** 6.05 6.13 6.15 6.25 6.35 6.36 6.43
DMI 19.5 20.3 21.2 22 22.6 23.2 24
Days on Feed*** 223 214 197 184 176 163 154
Hitch Enterprises and Dr. Britt Hicks, pen closeouts for years 2016 through 2021.              

Table 1. Influence of steer placement weight on feedlot performance and finish weight1.

 

Item 550 600 650 700 750 800 850
# Lots 268 499 612 671 567 303 62
Purchase Weight 576 623 673 721 761 806 861
Initial Weight 553 601 648 702 747 798 846
Sale Weight 1216 1243 1267 1277 1295 1317 1358
ADG* 2.92 3.02 3.18 3.22 3.28 3.29 3.46
Feed/Gain** 6.31 6.31 6.28 6.46 6.54 6.71 6.7
DMI 18.43 19.08 19.95 20.8 21.46 22.1 23.19
Days on Feed*** 219 205 187 173 163 155 144
Hitch Enterprises and Dr. Britt Hicks, pen closeouts for years 2016 through 2021.              

Table 2. Influence of heifer placement weight on feedlot performance and finish weight1.

 

Physiological maturity of bulls is delayed compared to steers, meaning fat deposition (or the amount of body fat) is less for bulls than steers at any given harvest weight. If the diet being evaluated is intended for bulls, “Finish Weight” at 0.6 inches of back fat should be increased by 150 pounds compared with the steers in Table 1.

 

Implants, Finishing-phase Antibiotics, Ionophores, and Beta Agonists

The Nutrient Requirements for Beef Cattle (2016) recommends the following adjustments for use of these technologies (Table 3).

 

The adjustment factors are supported by research conducted at Oklahoma State University. Angus-sired steers were either managed for an all-natural program (no implants, ionophores, antibiotics or beta agonists) or a conventional system (implanted, fed ionophores, antibiotics for liver abscesses and beta agonists during finishing). Steers in the all-natural program weighed 141 pounds less at harvest than the steers managed with growth promoting technologies (Maxwell et al., 2014; Journal of Animal Science 92:5727). These increases are also seen whether cattle are fed as calves or yearlings. A series of experiments (Barham et al., 2012; The Professional Animal Scientist 28:20; Williamson et al., 2014; The Professional Animal Scientist 30:485) in Arkansas showed that implanting calf-feds increased slaughter weight by 46 to 63 pounds and implanting cattle fed as yearlings increased slaughter weight by 77 to 111 pounds.

 

Item Direction of Adjustment Adjustment Factor Range
Non-use of implants Decrease 66 pounds 55 to 99  pounds
 Use of combination implant with trenbolone acetate and estrogenic hormones Increase 66 pounds 55 to 99 pounds
Use of beta agonist (Optiflex or Zilmax ) Increase 45 pounds 15 to 80 pounds
Adapted from NASEM (2016)      

Table 3. Adjustment factors for finish weight for growth promoting technologies.

 

Length of Stocker Phase

Days from weaning at approximately 205 days of age until feedlot placement has a significant impact on weight when cattle reach 0.6 inches of back fat during finishing. In general, finish weight in cattle increases approximately 0.75 to 1.25 pound per day of stocker phase. The faster the rate of stocker phase gain, the lower response and vice versa.

 

Results from four experiments (three from Arkansas and one from Oklahoma) show these relationships. The Oklahoma State University experiment (Gill et al.,1993; OSU Animal Science Research Report 197 – Table 4) compared feedlot performance and harvest weights of steers fed as calves and yearlings following grazing wheat pasture. In this experiment, grazing steers on wheat pasture increased finish weight by 81 pounds or 0.71 pounds per day of stocker period.

 

In research conducted in Arkansas (Williamson et al., 2014 –Table 5) steers from a spring calving cowherd were finished as calves or placed on wheat pasture for 175 days stocked to have gains of 1.56 or 2.34 pounds per day before shipping to Texas Panhandle feedlots for finishing. Even though the yearlings managed for higher gains while grazing wheat pasture gained 0.78 pounds per day more before finishing, performance during finishing was the same and both were more than Calf-Feds. For each day on pasture, slaughter weights of calves managed for low gain had 0.17 heavier weights at slaughter, while when managed for high gains on pasture slaughter weights were 0.64 pound greater for each day of the grazing season. In another experiment from Arkansas (Barham et al., 2012 – Table 6) finishing performance of steers finished as with growth promoting implants increased slaughter weights for Calf-feds by 63 pounds and slaughter weights of yearlings was increased by 77 pounds. Yearlings were 118 (non-implanted) to 132 (implanted) pounds heavier at harvest than calves.

 

An accurate estimate of beef cattle finish weight at a constant biological end point (back fat thickness) is an important component in accurately determining nutrient requirements in growing cattle. Hopefully, the large data set provided, along with research results presented, will assist producers and beef cattle nutrition advisors to accurately estimate finish weight at 0.6 inches of back fat. This should lead to more precise ration formulation, cost savings and (or) improved animal performance.

 

Item Calf-Fed Wheat Pasture
Age at feedlot entry 8 months 12 months
Stocker phase, days - 112
Stocker ADG - 2.0
Feedlot in weight 540 765
Finishing ADG 3.22 3.70
Finish Weight 1178 1259
1Gill et al., 1993    

Table 4. Effect of stocker program and age of finishing on finish weights of steers.

 

  Calf-Fed Low Gain Wheat Pasture High Gain Wheat Pasture
Age at feedlot entry 8 months 13 months 13 months
Stocker phase, days - 175 175
Prefinishing ADG - 1.56 2.34
Feedlot in weight 630 745 882
Finishing ADG 2.80 3.39 3.41
Finish weight 1170 1201 1283
Williamson et al., 2014      

Table 5. Effect of stocker program and age on finish weights of steers.

 

  Calf, No Implant Calf, Implant Yearling, No Implant Yearling, Implant
Age at finishing 9.7 9.7 14.1 14.1
Stocker phase, days 63 63 132 132
Prefinishing ADG 2.52 2.81 1.22 1.23
Feedlot in weight 662 643 793 823
Finishing ADG 3.55 4.17 4.30 4.87
Finish weight 1128 1191 1246 1323
Barham et al., 2012        

Table 6. Effect of stocker program and age on finish weights of steers.

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