Department of Animal Science


Date of this Version



Published in 1996 Nebraska Beef Cattle Report; published by Agricultural Research Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Numerous alternatives exist for feeding and managing weaned medium-frame steers to slaughter. Efficiency of beef production includes the total growing and finishing period. Often economics of production only considers a single part of the production systems. As a consequence one segment of the industry may make decisions based on maximum profit while they own or manage an animal that may adversely effect the profit of a subsequent owner. possibly causing overall economic efficiency to be lowered. For example, cost per pound of gain is usually lower when calves are wintered at a relatively fast rate of gain and consequently feedlot operators tend to want relatively fast gains so cost of gain will be relatively low. However. this may not be cost effective if the cattle are going to be grazed the following summer.

Range land comprises about 60% of western Nebraska land mass which produces high quality forages for cow-calf producers and yearling stocker operators. Historically many yearlings were grazed on the rangeland after they had been weaned and wintered on the ranch at a relatively slow rate of gain. As more cattle were moved to confinement feeding on higher energy rations questions arose about what the proper wintering gain for weaned calves is and what the proper length to graze yearlings with varied winter gain is. Tremendous quantities of crop residues such as cornstalks are available to winter calves and even though the winter gain is relatively low and cost per pound of gain is high, total winter cost of gain can be very low. Cattle subjected to periods of low energy intake normally exhibit compensatory growth during subsequent periods of adequate energy intake. Cattle that experience compensatory growth are also more efficient than comparable cattle grown on a higher energy ration. Because of compensatory gains, considerable gain can be put on light yearlings on grass at a very low cost which would lower the overall cost of production. Because of the low winter moisture in western Nebraska. cornstalk quality is relatively high throughout the winter, allowing low cost winter gains and long grazing.

The objectives of this research were to 1) evaluate the effect of winter management and length of summer grazing on subsequent finishing performance with medium-frame steers and 2) economically evaluate these systems of production.