Show Cattle Nutrition is All About Results

Mar 15, 2022

Whether you’re just getting started with show cattle or you’ve been showing for years, you know how important it is to have a nutrition program that will help make your animals look their best.

You want an animal to look great throughout the year, but even more important, is being at their best at a future date – show day. For heifers, there might be multiple target show dates, and for steers there may only be one, but regardless of how many dates you’re targeting, your animal’s nutrition program needs to be developed with the end goal in mind. 

“We need to be thinking about the results we want,” says Dr. Chad Zehnder, cattle consultant with Purina Animal Nutrition. “What does the steer weigh currently? What do we want him to weigh on show day? With heifers it’s not much different, but you may have multiple target dates to keep in mind.”

Two-step approach
Zehnder recommends a two-step approach for developing a nutrition program:

Step 1: Determine the nutrition the animal has been receiving.

Whether the animal is purchased or home raised, you need to know exactly what they’ve been getting and how much they were getting to smoothly transition those cattle to a more individualized show nutrition program.

If cattle haven’t been on much feed, or if they’re newly weaned, you can transition them to a sound starter program for 21-28 days, prior to starting them on their show feed program.

Step 2: Determine the end goal and build them up to a feeding program to match. 

“This is where building a program gets more individualized. Not every animal is going to have the same program,” says Zehnder. “For instance, a steer in good condition, on the heavier side, might need 2 pounds of gain per day. But, a smaller, lighter steer might need a program with higher energy to gain 3 pounds per day.”

Another factor to consider is how much time you have until the show. A targeted show date in early summer means you’ll have less time to get your animal in the right condition versus a show in late summer, so you’ll need to adjust the daily intake and roughage level to reflect the amount of time you have to put condition on the animal. 

Building a balanced, consistent program
Any show cattle nutrition program should include a balanced feed with adequate amounts of protein, energy, and fiber or roughage. It’s also key to make sure that the animal has an adequate amount of mineral and vitamin supplementation, and that nutrients are from quality sources.

Zehnder emphasizes the importance of highly palatable feeds and access to clean, fresh water. 

“We need to be able to keep cattle on feed consistently whether that’s at home or at the show. You can have the best feeding program in the world, but if your animals won’t eat it, it’s not doing you any good,” says Zehnder. “Palatability is a must have in a nutrition program.”

Honor® Show Ambassador Kirk Stierwalt agrees.

“Good cattle deserve good feed,” says Stierwalt. “You have to get ahold of the most consistent product you can when it comes to nutrition. Any time your animal goes off feed or isn’t getting adequate nutrients is a step in the wrong direction. A consistent, palatable product will help you get the results you need.”

“We also can’t underestimate the importance of water. Water drives intake, especially in the summer months, so we need to make sure calves have access to clean, fresh water,” adds Zehnder.

Avoid taking drastic measures 
While a feeding program can be developed on paper, it is of critical importance to monitor the appearance of your animal on a regular basis. 

“Condition and weight should be monitored at least monthly when you’re more than 3 months away from the show, and as you close in on your show date we need to be monitoring appearance and weights on a bi-weekly or weekly basis,” says Zehnder.

“We need to know how much those animals are actually gaining,” says Zehnder. “Monitoring monthly or even more frequently, we can adjust their feed program accordingly without having to take drastic measures.”

It takes approximately 45-60 days for nutrition to make a true change in appearance on an animal according to Zehnder. He adds that if you’re trying to make a change in less than 30 days, it will be a struggle. 

“An animal may need more rib shape, or maybe a little more fat, and you need to dig into the toolbox of products out there to get an animal what it needs,” adds Stierwalt. “There are very few instances where everything goes according to plan with weight gain, so we need to constantly monitor and adjust for optimal results.”

Re-evaluating your program
Zehnder encourages cattle exhibitors to evaluate their show nutrition program regularly, especially if you’re not seeing the results you want in the show ring. 

“Sometimes we need to ask ourselves if what we’re doing is actually working,” says Zehnder. “What are you currently feeding? Why are you feeding it? Has it been working? What could you change?”

“We sometimes do things because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’. But there are times, especially when you’re not seeing results, when it’s important to reevaluate.” 

No matter what your end goal is, a balanced nutrition program is a key ingredient for success. Creating or re-evaluating a program can be intimidating, but the potential end results in the show ring may be well worth your while.

----Purina Animal Nutrition

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