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Feedlot Holsteins need powerful feeding programs

With proper ration and management, dairy steers make good beef

Feedlot Holsteins need powerful feeding programs

As I travel across Western Canada, I see more beef producers raising Holstein steers in their feedlots.

Years ago, I didn’t think of Holstein steers as potentially profitable cattle, because I had a lot of misguided prejudices. However, my attitude did a complete “180” turnaround when I started working with a few successful Holstein producers by helping them put together special feeding programs for dairy steers. I saw how well Holstein steers can perform if they are recognized as a different class of feedlot cattle compared to traditional beef breeds. Now I advocate that Holstein steers can draw good revenue.

The biggest difference that I and many experienced Holstein-beef producers and myself have recognized is that these steers are large animals that eat a lot of feed. That’s because they need about 10-15 per cent more daily dietary energy compared to beef breeds. Due to greater frame size and larger internal organs, a Holstein steer’s dry matter intake for feed is about 10-15 per cent greater as well.

Using this fact as a focal point, I can establish a list of measurable performance expectations for Holstein steers, when they enter, are fed and finished in commercial feedlots.

This table outlines the performance from 500 lbs to a marketable weight of 1500 lbs at 15 – 16 months of feedlot Holstein steers compared to traditional beef feedlot cattle:

It is clear to me that Holstein steers have a unique set of performance characteristics. First, they have slightly lower ADGs due to larger maintenance requirements. Second, they are less feed efficient also due to higher maintenance requirements. Also they become less efficient over time in the feedlot, since Holstein cattle naturally lay down less lean body tissue and fat as they gain weight. Lastly, also due to their large skeleton and vital organs, their dressing percentage is lower than your typical beef feedlot breeds.

Yet by working with these constraints, we can yield a saleable carcass that is actually larger than one of a typical beef breed. Several studies have also demonstrated that most Holstein steers finish with enough backfat cover to grade desirable AAA or AA. It has been my experience that such Holstein yield and grading success is actually based upon how well these feedlot steers are fed and managed in three ways:

(1) Put them on a higher-energy plane of nutrition compared to conventional beef cattle,

(2) Use their larger DMI to your advantage and feed for total ADG performance, not for traditional beef breed frame size and

(3) Set up strategic use of hormone implants to reduce the number of days Holstein steers spend in the feedlot.

Here is an illustration of sample diets of a grower and finisher diets for Holstein steers marketed at 1,500 lbs.; coming into the feedlot as 500-lb. calves and gaining an average of 2.5-3 lbs./head/day on the grower diet and an average of 3-3.6 lbs./head/day on the finisher diet:

For the past six years, I have implemented this energy-enriched two-phase feeding system at a few feedlots in Western Canada. For example, one particular feedlot raises about 700 Holstein steers, the cattle have consistent gains and typically grade about 95 per cent AAA/AA with a few Prime animals in the shipments.

Carcass yield has grown over the last few years from 55 to present 58.5 per cent. A few years ago, we did have a slight problem with subclinical acidosis and laminitis during hot weather, especially when heavy cattle reached over 1,000 lbs. However, the feedlot manager and I solved this problem by adding extra limestone and a probiotic yeast to the feedlot TMR diet.

In another consulting 300-head feedlot case, I found out that there was a number of Holstein steers “riding” each other, while an unacceptable number of shipped steers was grading as B1 or “dark-cutters.” These two problems are related and by working with the feedlot’s veterinarian, we altered the implant program, which solved both problems at the same time. As a result, most cattle on this operation graded AAA or AA at market.

These two Holstein feedlots are success stories, because both operators feed Holstein steers properly. It’s a matter of providing nutritious diets that are specifically geared for meeting the higher energy requirements of the growing and finishing Holstein steers.

In contrast, I know one dairy producer that raises about 100 Holsteins on traditional beef breed diets, and he has Holstein steers approaching their second birthday!

About the author


Peter Vitti is an independent livestock nutritionist and consultant based in Winnipeg. To reach him call 204-254-7497 or by email at [email protected]



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