Feeding Show Cattle to Maximize Potential

Animal : Cattle

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Purina Animal Nutrition

You’ve spent countless hours studying pedigrees, poring over sale catalogs, anticipating online auctions, or waiting for that carefully planned calf to be born.

Now this package of potential show-winning genetics is yours – what can you do to maximize its potential with a cattle nutrition plan?

Honor® Show Ambassadors Dave Allan, Bob May and Kirk Stierwalt have fed numerous animals that have competed in champion drives, and offer vast experience in planning a careful feeding and nutrition plan to capitalize on an animal’s potential.

Tips on show cattle feeding and nurtrition

Here they offer their top five tips on feeding and nutrition to help take you and your project to the winner’s circle. 

1. Be consistent in your feeding.

“Both time of day and quantity of feed are critical,” says Allan. “Always feed your cattle at the same time every day or within 30 minutes of your target time.”

Consistency is simple – but valuable, agrees Stierwalt. “If you get to feeding cattle when you want to, they get to eating when they want to.”

Providing consistent access to clean, fresh water at all times is also critical. Water drives feed intake, so making sure your animals are drinking is important, especially in hot summer months.

2. Feed individually, but in a buddy system.

Almost as important as balanced amounts of protein, energy, and fiber is companionship.

“Cattle like to have a buddy to eat with,” says May. “They do better if they are not alone.”  

However, he notes, if you feed 20 pounds of feed to two steers, there is no guarantee they will each eat 10 pounds because some cattle are slow eaters and others are more aggressive. May suggests feeding cattle separately, but putting the bunks side-by-side and separated by a fenceline so the cattle feel like they are eating with a buddy.

3. Evaluate the entire feed product line.

“Good cattle deserve good feed,” says Stierwalt. “If you want to maximize your genetics, it has to be through a solid nutrition program.”

Selecting a quality show feed involves more than simply evaluating the ingredient list. Consider what goes into making that feed, including research and innovation, quality control, consistency, expertise and more. When you select a high-quality feeding program, you often get much more than just feed.

“Having a team of professionals like our Ambassadors and sales consultants to tap into can offer tremendous benefits to your project,” says Stierwalt. “The network we provide means you are not on your own feeding your calf.”

4. Make sure the pen matches the paper.

The cattle pen, that is. You may have a perfect nutrition plan on paper, but if you look at your animal and it’s not performing as you’d like it to – don’t be afraid to reevaluate. Part of this includes weighing your cattle on a continuous basis, says May. “We weigh our cattle every week just to monitor how much they are eating and gaining.”

Additionally, you need to create individualized plans and make changes for individual cattle. May emphasizes that every animal and every feeding scenario is different. “There’s never a one size fits all feeding recommendation,” he says.

Having knowledge of what different feed products can do, then matching those to meet different needs is part of the equation.

“You have to feed cattle on an individual basis, because what one needs, the other might have,” says Stierwalt. “If one needs more rib shape or more fat, you're going to have to get into the toolbox of nutrition products and get that calf what it needs.”

5. Keep the end in mind.

Most show cattle are fed to meet a certain goal by a particular date or series of dates. Determine what you want them to weigh, then create a plan to get there, the experts agree. This includes evaluating their past nutrition plane then building up to a feeding plan to meet the end goal. And it needs to begin the day you start feeding your calf.

“It's important that you manage your project – not just feed it – from the time you get it home,” says Stierwalt. “Visualize what you want, and then feed what you need to get them there.”
It’s not always an exact science – which is where the art comes in.

“A lot of times when you're feeding cattle, either you’re going too fast or too slow when it comes to gains. There are very few cases where it works out just perfect,” says Stierwalt. “You’ll need to make some adjustments as you get closer to the show to make it work out like you want.”

At the end of the day, show cattle are judged on visual presentation, performance and soundness. And with all of the nutrition products available, you can maximize your cattle to be the best they can be, says Stierwalt. “You can’t buy a champion – you have to feed and raise a champion.”

For more feeding and nutrition tips join the online community of show enthusiasts at