I go through a few questions with them to see how best to address their animal's weight problem:
- How much do they weigh now?
- What do you want them to weigh at fair?
- What are you feeding?
- How much are you feeding?
- Subtract current weight from desired weight to find the total desired gain
- 260 lbs. - 200 lbs. = 60 lbs. of desired gain
- Then divide the desired gain by the number of days before fair to find the desired average daily gain
- 60 lbs. / 30 days = 2 lbs. per day desired daily gain
- Now compare this to the average daily gain for the species
- Older market swine can on average gain between 2 lbs. to 3 lbs. per day so the desired daily gain should be good.
The second part is how much are you feeding? Most bagged feeds have feeding instructions based on the animal's weight. If the swine finisher feed says to feed 4% of the animal's body weight daily then we can calculate how much they need.
- Multiply the current weight by the amount the instructions say to feed
- Current weight is 200 lbs. x 4% per day = 200 lbs. x .04 per day = 8 lbs. per day
- Feed must be adjusted to equal the increase in weight. If we expect the pig to gain 2 lbs. per day, the next week the pig will weight 14 lbs. more (7 days x 2 lbs. per day = 14 lbs. of gain). We need to recalculate the feed at least once per week.
- 214 lbs. x .04 per day = 8.5 lbs. per day
- 228 lbs. x .04 per day = 9.1 lbs. per day
- 242 lbs. x .04 per day = 9.7 lbs. per day
- 256 lbs. x .04 per day = 10.2 lbs. per day
- Adjusting the feed weekly should help maintain the appropriate average daily gain.
Pushing usually means trying to make and animal gain a maximum amount of weight possible. There is still a limit to the amount of weight they can gain in a certain amount of time. In my experience, animals at this stage of development and growth can have some great rates of gain. I have seen sheep and goats gain 1 pound per day, pigs up to 2 pounds per day and cattle up to 4 pounds per day. Now there are exceptions and some animals can really grow in a short time, but let's not get our hopes too high and stay more realistic.
Using a market steer as an example. His current weight is 975 lbs. and the minimum weight for your fair is 1100 lbs. There are 30 days until fair and he needs to gain 125 lbs. His daily gain needs to be approximately 4.2 lbs. per day (125 lbs. / 30 days = 4.16 lbs. per day). Is it possible?
To push an animal to maximum weight gain, their basic nutritional needs must be met and extra nutrition must be available. Why? Extra nutrition, especially energy from fats and carbohydrates in grains and by-products, will be stored and deposited as fat. If the feed bag instructions say to give them 3% of their body weight per day, you might bump it up to 3.5% per day. If the steer can eat the extra feed and it provides more than their daily nutritional needs then they can gain the maximum per day. Now do not go crazy. If they were eating 30 lbs. per day do not jump to a full 50 lbs. bag per day or else you are asking for trouble. Bump his feed to 35 lbs. and see how that helps with weight gain.
Ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats) cannot handle large sudden changes in feeding. If you increase their feed, do it slowly and observe them multiple times per day to make sure they do not bloat, scour or have other digestive problems.
Holding is the reverse of pushing. You are trying to minimize weight gain. Say you have a 155 lbs. market lamb and the maximum weight for your fair is 165 lbs. At this time you are under weight, but if they gain the average of 1/2 lbs. per day, they will be over weight (1/2 lbs. per day x 30 days = 15 lbs. of weight gain, 155 lbs. + 15 lbs. = 170 lbs.). You want to put this lamb on a maintenance diet. Meaning you want to feed them enough to meet their nutritional needs but not to gain extra weight. If the feed instructions say 3% body weight per day, you might cut back to 2.5% or as low as 2% body weight per day to slow the rate of gain. But do not stop or skip a feeding to try and reduce weight gain. Weigh your animals every week, calculate the rate of gain and find out if they are gaining less than the average and are on target for the weight you want them to be at.
When holding animals, be careful not to reduce the feed to the point they start losing weight or muscle mass. If you understand and feel comfortable using a supplement to maintain weight and body mass you might do so. It is better for them to slowly gain a little weight than to make them lose weight and try to push them to gain some back right before a show.
The biggest thing on pushing or holding is not to go to extremes. They cannot grow any faster than their genetic potential and they will not do well if you put them on a crash diet to try and minimize weight gain. If you are concerned, ask a family who does well with their animals for help. Ask the breeder you bought your animal from. Ask your Extension Agent or your FFA advisor. There are plenty of people willing to help if you just ask.
Here are some additional resources:
Feeding the Lamb Crop - Purdue University
Niche Pork Production - Iowa State University
Basic Show Steer Feeding and Care - Utah State University Extension
Area Extension Agent
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension