Feedlot Mortalities on the Rise

IOWA - With advances in feedlot management and improved health care, Rodney Jones of Iowa Farm Today says it´s only logical to believe feedlot death loss has decreased.
calendar icon 30 November 2007
clock icon 3 minute read

Jones says the data indicated death loss in the feedlot was increasing by 0.0467 of a percent per year.

However, recent research may indicate otherwise.

“What we saw with the cattle we looked at in the Southern Plains feedlots was a slight but significant trend toward increased death loss,” says Jones, an Extension ag economist at Kansas State University.

The research, led by graduate student Abe Babcock, looked at Kansas feedlots from 1992 to 2004.

Jones says the study was designed to determine if there was any death loss trend, if any increase was gender-based and to evaluate if lighter weights had any effect on the death loss.

“We´ve seen some lighter calves heading into the feedlots in recent years due to dry weather, so we wondered if that might have something to do with the increase,” he says.

He says the data indicated while placement weights had no effect on steer death loss, it did increase heifer losses.

“While we did find that death loss increased overall, it was interesting to see that placing calves at lighter weights did have an impact on death loss with heifers,” Jones says.

KSU began collecting weight loss data in 1992 in its “Focus on Feedlot” report. Jones says researcher s used sample data from eight Kansas feedlots with numbers reported at closeout.

Those numbers included final weight, average days on feed, average daily gain, dry matter feed conversion, percentage of death loss, average cost per hundredweight of gain, projected cost of gain for replacement cattle, and corn and alfalfa prices.

Jones says the data indicated death loss in the feedlot was increasing by 0.0467 of a percent per year. For heifers, that number was 0.0672 of a percent.

“Like I said, it´s very slight, but it is a definite trend,” he says.

Jones says each 1 percent increase in placement weight should result in a 0.050 of a percent decrease in death loss.

“I think you need to be careful when bringing in heifers because this does show they may struggle more than steers,” he says.

Seasonal issues may also cause more harm to heifers than steers. Jones says the research indicated heifers may have a greater risk of death with late-spring closeouts.

“We did have some severe weather in the spring of 1993, and you really saw a huge impact on heifers,” he says.

“It shows you may not be able to place light heifers in the fall to close out in the spring or, if you do that, you may want to figure in that increased death loss percentage when you price those calves.”

Jones says there could be several reasons for the increase in death loss, despite the improvements in management and medical technology.

“I think we continue to push cattle to the limit when it comes to feeding, and that could make them more likely to succumb to illness in the feedlot.

“Or, it could also be that we do a much better job keeping cattle alive prior to them being placed in the feedlot.

“If a calf is sick and recovers, it is probably going to be more likely to have problems down the road. We kept that calf alive when it was younger, only to have it die in the feedlot.”

Jones says additional research will be needed before all those questions are answered.

“I don´t know that anyone thought we would see a significant death loss trend, but we have. And, it´s something we really need to look into further.”

The numbers should be part of the equation when feedlots are bidding on cattle, Jones adds.

“We know heifers are going to struggle more than steers when they have lighter placement weights.

“We know heifers that are placed with a spring close out in mind are going to struggle. I think we need to take these numbers seriously and keep them in mind when we are buying cattle.”

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