Is profitability in beef cattle related to productivity or commercialization?

Over more than 20 years working in the sector, with agronomic and administrative training, I experienced many discussions focused on-farm productivity and management within the gate, vigorously defending these solutions as the primary way to profit from livestock. However, the administrative view and performance in the management of farms provided a more excellent perception of the business and the understanding that the management capacity outside the gate, focused on commercialization, also has a high impact on the farms’ profitability. The most profitable companies I had the opportunity to meet are very good at managing in and out of the gate.

Photo Braham - Carlos Lopes

Balancing diets is a bet on the success of your confinement

Oxen in confinement.

Is the cost analysis critical?

A simple cost analysis shows us the importance of management focused inside and outside the gate. It is important to note that the more the activity moves from brood to fattening, the greater the management’s relevance outside the gate.

In 2018, Brazil returned to the position of the world’s largest beef exporter. It remains one of the largest producers of red meat on the planet, with prospects for a massive increase in productivity for the coming years. For this, investments in technologies will be needed to improve the efficiency of current production systems.

In the last few years, the termination in confinement has been growing and is one reason that led the country to gain prominence in world cattle raising. As a result, there is also a need to improve management conditions and the adequacy of feedlot diets because they have a fundamental role in this new scenario.

Despite the encouraging advantages, cattle production in confined systems is driven by the price of the main inputs – corn and soybean meal -, which represent about 70% of the production costs and the fat cattle, these being the main activity bottlenecks.

Due to these characteristics, there must be no food waste. Likewise, all the nutritional needs of animals need to be met. For this reason, the formulation of balanced diets for cattle finished in the feedlot is an excellent ally of the producer who seeks at the end of the production cycle to obtain massive animals that will have excellent carcass yields.

A balanced feed provides high-quality food with the necessary amount of nutrients that will provide the animal with an ideal level of daily production.

Confinement diets mainly use processed cereal grains (milling, rolling, flocculation) and a low inclusion of fat foods, essential for maintaining rumen health and reducing digestive disorders, especially acidosis.

It seems complicated to assimilate so much information on this subject. It is necessary to know the nutritional requirements of the animals and the nutritional characteristics of the available foods to achieve a balanced diet.

Cattle kept in confinement have only requirements for maintenance and weight gain. The maintenance requirement is the same for all animals and varies depending on each animal’s size and live weight.

On the other hand, the weight gain requirements depend on the desired average daily gain rates established by the feeder. Using an example, a Nellore breed weighing 400 kg live weight has an energy requirement for a 4.96 Mcal / GPCVZ (empty body weight gain).

To achieve a desirable, productive performance described above, ruminants need water, protein, energy, minerals, and vitamins. These nutrients are removed from the food fed to the animals daily and usually in confinement, in the form of a complete diet.

Concentrated foods are those that have the most significant inclusion in feedlot termination diets. In this sense, corn is used as an energy source and soybean meal as the primary protein source. Other foods may be part of the diet’s concentrated fraction, such as cottonseed, soy husk, and citrus pulp. What matters is knowing how to properly handle these foods to provide the ideal amount of nutrients to animals.

In recent years, ranchers have been offering high amounts of concentrate, such as 1.8% of live weight. That is, a finishing animal weighing 450 kg eats about 8 kg of concentrate per day. These formulations should contain additives and buffers to try to reduce the risk of metabolic disorders.

Despite this, finishing diets, even though they are strategically balanced, are very challenging to the rumen of cattle and the appearance of metabolic diseases is not uncommon. Therefore, it is essential to include in the formulation minimum levels of fiber that will promote salivation and rumination, helping to balance the rumen pH to prevent these problems from happening. It is possible to achieve good results when foods such as Tifton hay, corn silage, or even sugarcane bagasse are included in the diet formulation.

But how is it possible to gather all this information to arrive at an ideal confinement diet?

First, you need to know the animal for which the formulation is being made. Nutritional requirements vary widely between Zebu and Taurus.

After that, know the available foods. But don’t worry, all of this information has already been studied extensively and is now available in nutritional requirements and food composition tables. These tables can be explored by using diets to produce efficient animals (relation between quantity consumed of food and number of arrobas produced).

Although these tables are essential tools for formulating diets, it is recommended to carry out bromatological analysis of foods in specialized laboratories.

It is interesting in all this history that the termination of cattle in feedlots optimizes the production system and brings several other advantages, both for the rancher and for the consumer.

Getting the diet formulation right is key to delivering more massive animals and, consequently, with better fat deposition.

For the producer, this helps in the marketing of their animals and will help them achieve better sales prices over time, which will bring success in business as the main result.

Ruminal acidosis: How to prevent this disease so common in dairy cattle

Ruminal acidosis is a prevalent metabolic disease in dairy farming. The disease is due to the ingestion of high amounts of hyperglycemic foods (carbohydrates), readily fermentable or low management of the trough in confinement. This change, which can be acute or chronic, is a frequent ruminant problem with diets rich in concentrates.
The disease is nothing more than the excessive production of acids (AGVs and lactic acid) in the animal’s rumen. The biggest problem caused by this acidification is the mortality of part of the bacteria and protozoa since they are essential for the balance of the rumen microbiota.
About 10% of confined animals have ruminal acidosis. If not treated in time, the mortality rate due to this digestive malfunction can reach 90%. In general, feed is one of the main ingredients of feed-in dairy herds. Since it helps to optimize the animals’ weight gain, increases milk production, and, consequently, the rural producer’s profitability.
Animals fed a concentrate-rich diet (grains or other non-fibrous carbohydrates) must undergo an adaptation period. But the problem is that ranchers do not follow this cycle and suffer from losses, which are often invisible to the eyes.
For this reason, in this article, we will clearly explain all the details of this disease. Want to know everything? So, read on!

Causes of ruminal acidosis

Ruminal Acidosis

As you have already followed, the disease’s leading cause is the high and sudden carbohydrates intake. They ferment quickly and cause the accumulation of acids in the animal’s rumen.

Acidosis is usually caused when there are sudden changes in diet. That is, at the moment when the form of grain consumption is increased without prior adaptation, what’s more, when the animal accidentally consumes a high volume of grain. An example is an unprepared employee who provides an enormous amount of grains or even when the animal breaks into the food tank.

It can still happen because the cattle receive a completely irregular feeding with unusual food. Some attitudes can favor the onset of the disease:

  1. avoid depriving animals of food; 
  2. increase the grain level of the feed without prior adaptation.

Types of ruminal acidosis

The disease can manifest itself in two ways, clinical and subclinical; this is the most frequent in the properties.

The subclinical form of ruminal acidosis occurs when the pH is below 5.8, which compromises the total diet’s digestibility. That is, in many cases, the producer still does not notice the signs of the disease.

In the appearance of the disease’s clinical format, the signs are more apparent and more evident. What’s more, the animal may die if treatment is not carried out quickly.

Both clinical and subclinical acidosis cause several economic losses to rural producers. That is why it is so important to be aware of the first signs. Check out the main ones in the next topic!

Signs of illness

The signs of ruminal acidosis appear between 12 to 24 hours after eating the food. Among the most characteristic, we can highlight:

  • cramps;
  • weakness;
  • dehydration;
  • loss of appetite;
  • staggering;
  • dark and acidic diarrhea;
  • fluctuation in milk production;
  • drop in rumen movement.

These signs must be observed daily by the responsible keepers who must be specialized and trained to identify the problem. To interfere in time and minimize the damage caused. In more severe cases, when curative treatment does not happen in time, the disease can even lead the animal to death. 

Diagnosis and treatment

The diagnosis of ruminal acidosis is based on the observation of clinical signs combined with feeding history if it was caused by readily fermentable foods or in large quantities of grains.

It is important to remember that the correct treatment will be indicated by a veterinarian who will prescribe medication to evacuate the intake and dehydration. However, more severe cases of the disease may need the aid of a tube to empty the rumen content.

During the recovery period, the animal must receive roughage and good quality water. Thus, the reintroduction of grains into your diet should be done gradually. 

Without a doubt, the most effective solution to this problem is prevention; see all the tips below. 

Tips to prevent ruminal acidosis

Simple actions, mainly aimed at the correct nutritional management, can help in preventing the problem and guarantee good performance on your property:

  1. Limit up to 40% the number of grains about the dry matter;
  2. Avoid serving the number of grains at once;
  3. Split meals two or three times during the day;
  4. Do not serve feed or concentrate when animals are hungry.

Did you realize that simple measures can prevent animal loss from ruminal acidosis and the disease that can be easily prevented, without costs that affect your profitability? Many producers end up having losses due to nutritional management errors that seem silly, but that makes a real difference in the final profit!

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