Between fluctuating feed and fuel prices and employee turnover, a feedlot manager may question how important feeding frequency is on the performance of fed cattle. At most feedlots, cattle are fed more than once per day with the idea that fresh feed will stimulate appetite, increasing feed intake and performance. This is not the only reason cattle are fed more than once. In most instances, bunk capacity prohibits a once a day feeding. However, if bunk capacity is not an issue, then is once a day feeding an option without giving up performance?
Colorado research compared feeding steers once, twice, or three times a day a high-concentrate finishing ration. What they found was that steers feed once or twice a day had similar average daily gain and feed intake. However, average daily gain and feed intake was greater in the three times a day feeding versus the twice or once a day feeding. There were similar feed efficiencies for all three treatments. Cattle fed three times a day also had greater hot carcass weights and more liver abscesses. No differences in yield or quality grade were observed.
In summary, there was no advantage to feeding twice daily compared to once per day, but there was a 25 pound weight advantage to feeding three times a day. While a 25 pound finish weight improvement is substantial, multiple feeding times per day may require more equipment use and take longer, increasing feeding costs. Feedlot operators should balance the cost required to deliver the total tonnage of feed each day with animal performance aspects of different feeding schedules to find the optimum.
Next week we will take a look at feeding once a day and if there is a certain time of day that is more favorable than another.