The importance of bunk management

Farm Forum

Applying key bunk management practices can save your feedlot from health issues, wasted feed and lost pounds from decreased average daily gain (ADG).

“Feed bunk management is the daily opportunity for cattle feeders to influence and ensure top performance and profitability for their cattle,” said Marty Andersen, PhD, nutritionist for Zoetis. “It’s an important management component for cattle to achieve their best potential.”

While balancing multiple responsibilities, such as cleaning lots, prepping rations and caring for cattle, stop and analyze the health of your cattle feeding operation. With the warmer weather, are you adjusting feeding times and providing adequate access to water? Cattle produce incremental heat while consuming feed, so consider splitting rations across morning and night, away from the warmest times of the day to avoid heat stress. Access to water is important at all times, especially during summer months.

How much space per head do your cattle have in the bunk? Dr. Andersen recommends 12 or more inches of bunk space per head. In confinement barns, 12 inches of bunk space may not always be possible. In these situations, bunks should be managed to encourage feed intake, which means having fresh feed in front of the cattle for a majority of the day and cleaning bunks shortly before morning feeding.

How about broken bunks, cables and wires? Debris can deter cattle from the bunk and could cause additional expense from injuries, so keep safety at the forefront and repair bunks as soon as possible.

Make bunk cleaning a priority. Leftover feed can run the risk of weather damage and spoilage, attracting flies and other insects. Spoiled feed in the bunk can turn cattle away from feed. While it’s convenient to pour fresh rations on top of the spoiled feed, reconsider this practice. If the spoiled feed doesn’t deter cattle, they risk overconsumption and subsequent metabolic problems, such as bloat and acidosis, when their feed intake pattern is disrupted. Ideally, feed intake should be consistent. Moving cattle up on feed, ingredient changes and extreme weather can make bunk management difficult. Discuss strategies with your nutritionist and veterinarian to help cattle cope with these challenges.

Poor feed bunk management practices can result in inconsistent intake patterns causing reduced dry matter intake and lowered ADG by as much as 15%. When including ionophores, such as CATTLYST, attentive bunk management practices and consistent feed intake and mixing are vital so cattle receive the appropriate amount to increase weight gain and feed efficiency.

Tips to improve bunk management:

• Provide an easily accessible and adequate supply of clean water to encourage feed consumption.

• Bunk space should be 12 to 24 inches per head to avoid overcrowding.

• Provide a clean concrete feeding pad with a depth of 8 to 12 feet for cattle to access bunks.

• Ensure proper weighing and mixing of feed ingredients, as well as consistent feeding times.

• Prior to the first feeding, evaluate and record feed consumption for each bunk. Base decisions to add or reduce feed call on the last five days’ feed consumption records.

• Clean feed bunks and waterers frequently, feed quality ingredients and avoid spoiled or damaged feed.

• Maintain a close working relationship with your nutritionist to monitor rations, ingredient moisture and quality.

“You have to pay attention to your cattle and know what’s going on in the pen,” said Dr. Andersen. “Look for unusual changes in feed consumption and monitor manure for loose, watery stools, a sign of acidosis. If things are abnormal in the pen, it’s time to start asking what’s wrong.”

For more information to improve bunk management on your operation, please contact your Zoetis representative or visit

Do not allow horses or other equines access to feeds containing CATTLYST. Do not use in animals intended for breeding.