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Manage basics for optimal feedyard performance

Keeping cattle comfortable and gaining at their peak is the key to ensuring profitability.

Jennifer M. Latzke

November 29, 2023

3 Min Read
Cattle in multiple feedyards
COMFORTABLE CATTLE: Making sure there’s adequate water, appropriate airflow and bedding are just some of the ways feedyard managers can make sure cattle are not expending their energy maintaining body temperature, and instead adding gain.DarcyMaulsby/GettyIimages

Blizzards, searing heat, flooding, ice, drought — feedyards have to be prepared for whatever adverse weather condition comes their way.

With a little bit of forethought, cattle producers can make sure that they can optimize their feedyard management for best cattle performance, explains Zachary Smith, assistant professor in animal science at South Dakota State University, and John Schroeder, manager of Darr Feedlot, Cozad, Neb. The two spoke during the 2023 Cattlemen’s College in February.


Smith’s work shows that the gains from enhanced cattle comfort are worth the cost of applying straw bedding to pens. With just 4 pounds of wheat straw bedding per steer per day during the bitter winter months, cattle showed an increase in average daily gain of about 20% over the cattle that didn’t have the extra bedding in their pens, Smith says. That ran to about $1.21 per pound in value of gain, he adds.

“The return on investment is 2 to 1, down to 1 to 1, so it’s not a high-yielding return on investment,” he says. “But you pay for bedding no matter whether we use it or not. Those without bedding took an extra 35 days of yardage and feed to get to the same outweight, so we either bought bedding and applied it to the cattle — or we didn’t, and we suffered reduced cattle gross performance.


Blocking the wind in the winter can help cattle conserve their body heat and the amount of energy they expend in keeping warm. But, at the same time, something like a shelterbelt, or overgrown weeds, can cause problems in the summer, Smith says. Cattle with access to airflow in the summer are better able to maintain their growth performance, he says.

Schroeder says that when Darr was redesigning pens, it not only installed two water tanks per pen, but also replaced older waterlines for added capacity. It went from being able to pump 125 gallons per minute up to 750 gallons per minute, and maintain a 47 psi through the whole system — ensuring there’s water in every tank at all hours of the day to help cattle cool themselves. Darr also builds its mounds in pens higher in the summer, so cattle can get up and into the airflow — and they add shade. It will also consider adding straw bedding to the pen floor, as a way of reflecting heat that would be absorbed by darker soil.


Smith says growth enhancement technologies have been in use for many years, allowing cattle producers to put on 50% more beef per cow since 1980.

“So, we’ve lowered the cow herd from 45 million head to 30 million, and that’s a one-third reduction,” Smith says. “Yet we’re able to maintain the same beef output.” Growth enhancement technologies can help cattle reach their genetic potential, he adds.

However, if the goal is to feed cattle to meet a specific program that prohibits the technology, feed heifers, Smith advises. Where steers can gain 20% more per day with an implant, heifers typically respond to gaining just 4% more per day, he says.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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