In confinement enterprises, feeding costs represent at least 70 percent of the total cost of production; therefore, feeding strategy has a direct impact on the economics of the enterprise.

Ad libitum or free-choice method of feeding was used in the past, and large fluctuation on feed intake and great occurrence of metabolic disorders were observed.

Preventing metabolic disorders is critical to obtain maximum performance and optimum carcass prices. The direct and indirect combined losses due to metabolic disorders are estimated to cost as much as $20 per head.

Digestive disorders are a leading cause of death in cattle, causing liver abscess, rumenitis and reducing the efficiency of gain.

Despite the improvement on mixing diets and husbandry, these problems still occur, and they are of great importance to control clinical and subclinical metabolic disorders.


Digestive problems and metabolic problems represent approximately 15 percent of cattle death loss and are the second-greatest problems, following respiratory problems, which represent 28 percent of cattle death loss.

For better planning and control of the ration provided to the animals, feedlots have implemented a management technique known as bunk management.

Figure 1: Scoring your bunk feed

Bunk management is one of the most critical components of cost-effective beef production.

It simply means matching the amount of feed delivered to the amount of feed cattle can handle.

This technique affects cattle feed intake, reducing excessive consumption and changing livestock behavior to ensure a reduction in daily intake variation.

Initially, the objective of bunk management was to keep bunks filled every moment and provide feed all the time for cattle, but the waste of feed was considerable.

In an attempt to reduce feed waste and committedly maintain performance, “slick bunk” technique was introduced and soon became popular.

A recent study done at South Dakota State University compared ad-libitum versus slick-bunk feeding programs.

The slick-bunk program resulted in 12 percent less feed consumption without any negative impact in performance. On the other hand, ad libitum resulted in a greater variation in intake.

Bunk management can be adopted independently of the level of information and technology of the employers at the feedlot.

Establishing a standard amount to increase or decrease feed offered based on bunk score reading is the first step when implementing this management practice.

Since fluctuation in feed intake is easily detectable with this practice, variation in consumption throughout the feeding period will be minimized and yet all animals will receive adequate amounts of nutrients and perform at optimum levels.

It is recommended that the first bunk reading is performed one hour before the morning feeding and the last at four hours after the last feeding.

Bunk management is one piece of the puzzle. Other measurements, such as diet composition, ambient temperature and humidity, days on feed, feedbunk space and type of cattle are other pieces that, when placed together, increase the accuracy and improve the application of bunk scores.

It is suggested a score range from 0 to 4, where 0 is no feed remaining in the bunk, 1 is “one-deep kernel” thick and uniform layer, 2 is 25 to 50 percent of the previous feeding, 3 is top of previous feed is thoroughly disturbed and 4 is top of the previous feed is disturbed.

It is important to note that each feedlot can adopt their own scoring system, but training personnel to read consistently is vital for the success of this practice.

Bunk management combined with optimum ration formulation and other management factors will minimize metabolic disorders, increase performance and ultimately guarantee a profitable enterprise.

Ana Verdugo works with Cargill Animal Nutrition in ruminant nutrition.

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Gustavo Cruz

Research and Development Manager – Ruminants
Cargill Animal Nutrition