Managing Summer Heat for Holstein Steers on a Self-Feeder

James Grothe, Dairy Beef Specialist/Commercial Account Manager

Summer temperatures are already here or right around the corner, so now is the time to start getting feedlot cattle ready for the heat. Holstein steers actually take the heat well, but still require the right management to give the best performance and prevent losses due to poor feed conversion.

For cattle on a self-feeder, consistent intake is a major factor in good performance. To get the most consistent intake, we need to follow some good management practices:

  • It is crucial to keep fines to a minimum. To do so, mix rations as little as possible (least amount of time); putting the corn in first, followed by pellets. Use a mixer that has been flushed and is clean of fines or other ground feed. Quick dietary changes or an excessive amount of fines can cause inconsistent intake and result in digestive upset.
  • Try to use the same corn source all summer. If the corn source must change, make it slow and gradual. Be careful in the early summer when cold corn sweats as it is taken out of the bin and exposed to +80°F temperatures, causing the pellets to break up. This is important because without pellet intake, the steers get little dietary protein, Rumensin®, or other nutrients needed for a balanced ration.
  • Clean the bunks often to keep them free of fines and moldy feed. Keep feed fresher by not mixing more than a two-week supply at one time, and keep less than a month supply of pellets on hand. Kent pellets should be stored in a bin and not in open storage where moisture from humidity and rain can get pellets wet and cause them to break up.
  • Steers should have access to free-choice salt (block or loose) at all times.

Steer lot management is extremely important, perhaps more important than nutrition, when using self-feeder systems.

  • Access to water is critical in summer heat. Make sure the water flow and/or fill rate is adequate to keep up with the number of cattle in the feedlot.
  • Proper square footage in the lot per animal is very important because overcrowding will cause overheating, resulting in inconsistent feed intakes.
  • Manage the manure in a “less is better” way. A big manure pack in a barn gives off heat.
  • Moving air with fans or the use of open buildings will help keep a more consistent body temperature and help steers stay on feed.
  • Often, producers discontinue bedding in the summer, but you should maintain a bedding schedule even if it is dry. Just use less, because cattle need the routine of bedding and consider fiber part of the ration.
  • One of the best practices to use in high temperature situations may be to just observe the cattle to judge whether they seem comfortable and if not, determine the cause. To do so, walk the cattle and get them all up during different times of the day. However, do not stir the cattle during the hottest part of the day. This will help keep intakes optimal and stress levels down.

Poor management practices can increase feed required per pound of gain by as much as 1⁄4-1 lb of feed/lb gain. If the loss is 1⁄2 pound of feed per pound of gain and gain is 250 pounds over 90 days of heat, that’s 125 pounds of feed, or over two bushels of corn – which comes out to over $13 per steer or $0.14 per steer per day!

Are there other things we can do to the ration to help manage heat stress?

  • BoVantage® may help keep cattle on feed better during times of high heat. The cost of BoVantage is comparable to the additional 1⁄2 pound of feed per pound of gain.
  • EnergiLass® Rumen Booster tubs may also help keep cattle on feed. However, they need to be close to the feed and water, otherwise cattle lick them all day instead of eating their feed. Holsteins are curious about new things in the pen and will want to check out the tubs at first, increasing the potential for over-consumption.
  • Beef Buffer Pellets may help maintain a favorable pH in the rumen to support appetite and digestion. It may aid in stabilizing the gut environment when consumption is sporadic during hot days.

Otherwise, the best thing to do for your dairy beef calves is good basic management and Precision® Dairy Beef Finisher.