Bump Up Stocker Gains

Max Out Spring Grazing Gains With Two Steps

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Winter wheat is a common cattle forage, but maximizing gains takes planning ahead. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Benjamin Krain)

It won't be long before many areas are grazing out stockers on spring wheat pastures. Two considerations can help boost gains this year, helping to maximize returns in today's strong beef market.


Research has shown for some time now that one reliable way to boost average daily gains (ADGs) on stockers is by helping them make the transition to wheat and small grains grazing more seamlessly with the use of a probiotic.

Studies that support this go back to at least the early 2000s, when researchers were looking at why calves have lower ADGs the first three weeks of grazing winter wheat pastures and how to offset this setback. Three projects looked at the impact of a single oral dose of direct-fed microbials (DFM) on overall stocker performance. The research included 302 steers and 78 heifers over a two-year period.

Prior to grazing the stockers, a single dose (15 g) of a commercially available paste was given to half of the calves within each pasture. This product was reported to contain no less than 10 million cfu/g (colony-forming units per gram) of a combination of Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus plantarum. The overall ADG was used to determine the performance.

Results showed cattle given the single dose of the DFM had an ADG of 1.07 kg compared to the control group at 0.97 kg. Total gain for the DFM group was 81.6 kg; for the control group, 74.3 kg. These cattle were held at USDA-ARS Grazing Research Laboratories in El Reno, Oklahoma; Miles City, Montana; and Uvalde, Texas.

Michele Egan, an animal health and nutrition marketing manager with Chr. Hansen North America, explains the stress due to transportation, changes in diet, and adaptation to a new environment can all lead to challenges that affect ADG in cattle. She said providing cattle with an effective probiotic helps alleviate the effects of these stressors and supports normal digestion and health well-being in the gastrointestinal tract.

To be effective, researchers today say producers should choose a probiotic that has live bacteria or yeast (look for a "minimum viability guarantee" on the label); buy from a trusted manufacturer; be specific about the strains based on the goal(s); and feed daily. There are products available today that can be used in any feeding application.


Along with a DFM, another key consideration to maximize gains is to set the right stocking rates. This will vary based on the region and climatic conditions.

Oklahoma State University's Paul Beck explained in his weekly series, "Cow-Calf Corner," that setting stocking rates on wheat pasture will have large effects on the performance of growing calves and on the productivity of the pastures themselves. He has 10 years of data from experiments to help determine the response of ADG to initial forage allowance.

Beck reported that a maximum ADG of 2.7 pounds/day could be expected at 5 pounds of forage DM/lb. initial calf body weight and 2 pounds/day at an initial forage allowance of about 2.4 pounds of forage DM/lb. initial calf body weight.

"An easy rule of thumb," writes Beck, "is for wheat pastures, there is 150 to 250 pounds of forage dry matter per inch of plant height. To make the math easy, I use about 200 pounds of forage dry matter per inch."

He says a 500-pound steer should have 2,500 pounds of forage dry matter available at turnout (500 multiplied by 5 pounds of DM forage allowance). When forage allowance is below 2 pounds per pound of steer body weight, supplementation should be considered.

For more from Oklahoma's Paul Beck: http://www.oklahomafarmreport.com/….

For the Research Paper "Effects of a Single Dose of Direct-Fed Microbials on Performance of Stocker Calves Grazing Annual Cool-Season Grasses": https://www.ars.usda.gov/….

For more from Chr. Hansen on probiotics in cattle: https://www.chr-hansen.com/….

Victoria Myers can be reached at vicki.myers@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @myersPF

Victoria Myers