There is a hustle and bustle around the kraal on the Onderstepoort veterinary campus of the University of Pretoria. It can all be attributed to the Onderstepoort Feedlot Challenge, which has now entered its final 20 days. Since the middle of February, eight groups of veterinary students have been feeding and managing cattle in a simulated feedlot environment. It is all about learning as fifth-year Onderstepoort veterinary students, 176 in total, take on this challenge.

The compulsory OP Feedlot Challenge, responsible for 25% of the students’ final year mark in the Bovine Health and Production module, is aimed at exposing veterinary students to all aspects of working with production animals and spark their interest in production animal veterinary care. “The final goal is, of course, to train better production animal veterinarians in South Africa,” says Dr. Shaun Morris, who spearheads the challenge. A totally practical approach is chosen because it all happens out in the kraal and transferring practical knowledge in a theoretical way often proves difficult and unsuccessful. “Although it is a practical approach, it is supported by theory and the students also had to attend classes and write tests on feedlot ins and outs,” says Dr. Morris.

He explains that the students are responsible for everything. “This includes processing the animals, selecting and buying calves, financial planning and budgeting, feed formulation, complete health care, managing the feed store and mixing feed, managing the kraal and calves, planning the marketing strategy, and more.” The team has to divide the work amongst themselves and each of the team members has specific tasks.

“A project like this, of course, needs a lot of resources and we are thankful to say that everything, from the cattle to the feed, is sponsored by our loyal supporters.” The sponsors are the University of Pretorua, Zoetis, Sparta Beef, Fepro, Afgri, SA Premix, Tongaat Hulett Starch and Octavoscene.

Two of the most important events on the challenge calendar are buying the calves on a mock auction and formulating the feed rations. “The auction often gets very interesting as excitement runs high and it is a first-time auction experience for most of the students. During the first week the students learn to mix the feed formulation and in just a few days they have to get the hang of this and is done under strict supervision. Animal nutritionist, Dr. Henning Vermaak was brought in to mentor the students in this task and check the formulations.” As a matter of fact, various industry role-players are actively involved in the success of the challenge, as evidenced by the sponsorships.

The animals are processed and the feed mixed and then the feeding and measuring starts. Week by week growth data is published looking at various economically important production parameters to track the teams’ progress. Click here to view the data to date.

“We have feed mixing days throughout the challenge and the feed is bagged and ready to be fed to the calves. The students divide themselves into a feed duty list and the calves are fed around six in the morning, at lunchtime and at about six in the evening every day,” says Morris. The animals are fed for 105 days in total, after which the animals are judged on the hoof, slaughtered, judged and weighed and then marketed by a local butcher.

The next important dates on the challenge calendar are:

 23 May: On the hoof evaluation

25 May: Slaughter

28 May: Presentations and prize giving

The OP Feedlot Challenge teams are very active on social media and to stay up to date with the challenge progress, you can follow it on facebook. Click here.