Exposing Animals to Grain With Mom Improves Intake of Grain At Weaning and Feedlot Performance | Utah State University Extension

    Exposing Animals to Grain With Mom Improves Intake of Grain At Weaning and Feedlot Performance

    By Beth Burritt
    Livestock performance in feedlots is often poor during the first two to three weeks after animals enter the feedlot. Sudden changes in diet and poor intake of novel foods likely contribute to poor performance. Exposing young animals with their mothers to feeds they will encounter in the feedlot 1) encourages intake of concentrate rations, 2) enables animals to finish more quickly, 3) may cause changes in animals’ bodies to use concentrates more efficiently and 4) likely reduces stress and illness. In one study, lambs exposed to barley and protein pellets (experienced) reached slaughter weight faster than lambs naive to concentrates (controls). For example after five weeks on a feedlot ration, 40% of experienced lambs reached slaughter weight compared to 24% of controls. After eight weeks, 81% of experienced lambs reached slaughter weight compared to 50% of controls (Ortega-Reyes et al. 1992).
    Based on a number of studies here are some things to consider when exposing young animals to concentrates:

    1. For exposure to be effective, young animals must be able to eat the food with their mothers. Just watching mom eat the food is not effective (Thorhallsdottir et al. 1990). Provide enough space so that offspring can eat as much of the food as possible. Young animals are often pushed away from food by older, larger animals.
    2. Creep feeding is not as effective as allowing young animals to eat with their mothers. Often creep is ignored. In one study at the time of weaning, lambs exposed to grain for five days with their mothers ate seven times more grain than lambs with eight weeks exposure to grain without their mothers (Lynch et al. 1983).
    3. If animals are exposed in troughs, make sure mother and young are familiar with troughs. Feeding novels foods in familiar troughs increases acceptance of new foods (Chapple et al. 1987).
    4. If ample trough space is not available, trailing grain across a clean pasture is an effective method for exposing young animals with their mothers to most concentrates (Lynch and Bell, 1987).
    5. Expose animals for at least three to four days. Research shows that exposures longer than eight days provide no additional benefit as far as encouraging young animals to eat new foods (Ortega-Reyes et al.1992).
    6. Animals should be at least four weeks of age at the time of exposure but data suggest that exposing animals just before weaning is also effective. The key is making certain that young animals eat the new food with their mothers (Chapple et al. 1986, Lynch and Bell, 1987).
    7. For sheep or goats just a quarter of a pound of grain per adult animal per day improved intake of grain by animals later in life (Lynch and Bell, 1987). I am not aware of any work conducted with cattle, a but a pound of grain per adult animal per day should be sufficient.
    8. Animals should be exposed to foods they will encounter in the feedlot. If the foods they will encounter are unknown, familiarizing animals with any grain will increase the likelihood they will eat another grain (Mottershead et al. 1985).
    9. Exposing young animals to both water from a tank or waterer and to feed bunks with their mothers will increase their acceptance by young animals at weaning resulting in less stress and illness.
    10. Exposing lambs to grain early in life will not prevent the likelihood of animals suffering from grain acidosis when offered grain later in the feedlot. In fact, animals are more likely to have problems with acidosis because they will eat grain readily even if their rumens are not ready to accommodate large quantities of grain (Ortega-Reyes et al. 1992). Animals will regulate intake of grain provided they are offered both grain and roughage and their rumens have time to adjust to large quantities of grain. Suggestions for getting animals experienced eating grain ready to eat grain free choice are as follows: 1) If ample trough space is available, limit grain to the amount animals will clean-up in about 15 min. then increase the amount of grain offered by 10% each day until animals have grain available at all times. 2) If ample trough space is not available, mix concentrates with chopped roughage so that animals will not over ingest concentrates. Gradually reduce the amount of roughage about 10% per day until animals only have grain available in the feeder. Watch animals for scouring and decrease the amount of grain offered if necessary.


    Chapple, R.S. and J.J. Lynch. 1986. Behavioral factors modifying acceptance of supplementary foods by sheep. Res. Dev. Agric. 3:113-120.
    Chapple, R. S.. M. Wodzicka-Tomaszewska and J. J. Lynch.1987a. The learning of sheep when introduced to wheat. I. Wheat acceptance by sheep and the effects of trough familiarity. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 18:157-162.
    Lynch, J.J., R.C. Keogh, Elwin, G.C. Green and B.E. Mottershead. 1983. Effect of early experience on the post-weaning acceptance of whole grain wheat by fine-wool merino lambs. Anim. Prod. 36:175-183.
    Lynch, J.J. and A.K. Bell. 1987. The transmission from generation to generation in sheep of the learned behaviour of eating grain supplements. Aust. Vet. J. 64:291-292.
    Mottershead, B.E., J.J. Lynch, R.L. Elwin and G.C. Green. 1985. A note on the acceptance of several types of cereal grain by young sheep with and without prior experience of wheat. Anim. Prod. 1985. 41:257-259.
    Ortega Reyes, L., F.D. Provenza, C.F. Parker and P.G. Hatfield. 1992. Drylot performance and ruminal papillae development of lambs exposed to a high concentrate diet while nursing. Small Rum. Res. 7:101-112.
    Thorhallsdottir, A.G., F.D. Provenza and D.F. Balph. 1990. Ability of lambs to learn about novel foods while observing or participating with social models. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 25:25-33.