Last week I attended the 100th Annual Convention of the California Cattlemen’s Association & California Cattlewomen, which was held in Sparks, NV.
I presented a poster about our recent study on feeding motivation in feedlot cattle, and Helene Dillard, the dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, stopped by to check it out.
Here’s a summary of what we examined in this study:
In the finishing stage of beef production, feedlot cattle are commonly fed high-concentrate diets to improve growth and production efficiency. However, this practice is associated with animal welfare concerns, as it can impair physical function in the form of acidosis, or low rumen pH. In addition, it is unknown whether cattle, ruminants that have evolved to feed on roughage, have an intrinsic motivation to consume dietary fiber.
Our objective was to evaluate how much feedlot cattle want to obtain a source of dietary fiber when they are fed a high-concentrate finishing diet. To quantify their degree of motivation, we asked cattle to push a weighted gate with their heads to gain access to dietary fiber. We found that cattle fed a high-concentrate diet pushed the gate to access hay immediately after it was presented, more than an hour sooner than those fed a high-fiber diet. This pattern remained unchanged even when the weight on the gate, and thus the challenge of pushing it, increased.
This demonstrated that cattle fed a high-concentrate diet were motivated to gain access to dietary fiber. In future studies, we plan to investigate whether this motivation is explained by changes in the rumen environment, a need to perform chewing and ruminating behavior, or both.
It was an exciting couple of days meeting beef producers, joining in the centennial celebration, and attending a Cattlemen’s College workshop led by Darrh Bullock from the University of Kentucky. He talked about beef breeding, and you can check out some free educational resources here.