Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

The Onderstepoort Feedlot Challenge was a great success this year, despite additional challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the challenge never fails to achieve its main goal – to give fifth-year veterinary students practical experience in the feedlot by simulating the entire beef production process. Not only does the challenge get the students excited about working with large animals, it also adds value to their theory modules on ruminants.

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Andy Hentzen and Dewald Olivier.

Earlier this year, eight groups battled it out with their bulls and heifers to be crowned as this year’s winner of the Onderstepoort Feedlot Challenge with the final on-the-hoof evaluation. Prof Andy Hentzen commended the students for always being at the feedlot when the animals needed to be fed or needed medical attention. Prof Hentzen said this was especially impressive due to the Covid-19 restrictions that made the organisation and execution of the challenge all the more challenging.

The wiser team wins

The winning team, Beefweizer, ended up having made the wiser choices in their strategy for the 104-day feed in the feedlot. Gerhard Gregory of team Beefweizer said they were pleasantly surprised that they won, despite facing several challenges in terms of animal health. Unfortunately, the group received a sick animal that had developed heart disease.

“We needed to cull the sick animal early on in the challenge and it was a big setback,” said Gregory. “It was hard for the team to digest, and it also meant we needed to recalculate our profitability estimates.”

Team Beefweizer were the overall winners of the 2021 Onderstepoort Feedlot Challenge.

Gregory had the following to say about being crowned the overall winner of the on-the-hoof evaluation: “It is absolutely amazing to win. We did not expect to win the on-the-hoof evaluation. Seeing that he has always been fascinated by ruminants and anything meat-related, Gregory said he wants to work in the feedlot industry in future.

Team Star Wors came in at second place overall and Dead Poets Sosatie placed third.

Meet the contestants, sponsors, co-ordinator, and judges in this episode of Plaas TV:

Getting the youth interested in the feedlot industry

The challenge is made possible by sponsors who want to get the youth interested in the feedlot industry. One such sponsor is the South African Feedlot Association (Feedlot SA). Executive officer of Feedlot SA, Dewald Olivier, said the student competition is important because so few vet students want to work with larger animals after graduation.

“With the feedlot challenge, we can show students how rewarding it is to work with the larger animals. And by getting them to love working with these animals, we can continue to provide the country with good-quality red meat,” said Olivier.

Another sponsor that has been part of this initiative for almost seven years, Zoetis, also attended the final judging. Barry van Houten, marketing manager at Zoetis, said being involved with the challenge was important to them because of their passion for the animal health products they offer. They also want medication for cattle to be used correctly, and this challenge is an excellent opportunity to teach students from a young age.

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Zoetis has been a sponsor of the challenge for many years. From left is the Zoetis team, Schabort Froneman, Hannes Steyn and Barry van Houten with the co-ordinator of the challenge Dr Andy Hentzen.

“Students don’t get a lot of exposure to the use of medicine in the classroom, which makes this challenge the perfect opportunity to do so,” said Van Houten.

Happy judges and fat cattle

Johan Odendaal, senior judge at the Fatstock Judging Association, who was one of the judges at the Onderstepoort Feedlot Challenge, said he was very impressed with the condition of the animals after such a short feed.

The judges for the on-the-hoof evaluation. From left is Ampie de Jager of Voermol and Johan Odendaal of Samic.

“The animals were only fed for 104 days, which is a short feed in feedlot conditions. In addition, not all groups had bull calves, which made it even more challenging. We looked at conformation, length, depth, width, and roundness. Fat spread was also considered.”

Odendaal said he was pleased with the cattle they were given to judge and that the students worked hard, come rain or shine.

It’s all about the feed

Brandan Murray of team High Steaks, said during the challenge, when they formulated feed from raw materials, they learned about the importance of dealing with mouldy feed. “When it rained, we were almost exposed to mould. We saw first-hand how our other teammates struggled with the same problem and how it affected their feed intake,” said Murray.

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Winners in the heifer categories. From left is Deepali Narotam of team Star Wors, who won the best heifer group out of three and the second-best individual heifer, and Brandan Murray, team High Steaks, who won the best individual heifer.

“We also learned about the differences in ration formulation for bulls and heifers since we had a mixed group of animals. The bulls consumed more feed and grew faster, but the heifers did not grow or eat as much as the bulls. Our team was fortunate enough to have won the prize for the best heifer. We were also one of the few groups that had heifers and bulls.”

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Zama Inyama won second place in the group of three steers category.

Zama Inyama also found that feed and bunk management meant always coming up with creative ways to adapt their strategy. “At times the bulls would not eat, while other times they would eat too much,” said Fiona Pillay. “We also needed to manage the feed in terms of acidosis, which could harm them or drop feed intake.”

This team certainly made sensible choices since they won second place in the group of three steers category.

Leadership skills and confidence

Leandra Wiid of the Dead Poets Sosatie emphasised that the feedlot challenge contributed significantly to her studies. “It helped me develop as a leader, and as a future vet it gave me a lot of practical hands-on experience and confidence. During the challenge, I did a lot of clinical procedures on my own for the first time,” said Wiid. “This has given me a lot more confidence to go into clinics.

“From a more academic perspective, it has helped me retain a lot more of my studies. Because I have seen it and I understand it, I will better remember it. In addition, we have two ruminant modules so I can apply a lot of the knowledge and experience I gained during the challenge to my studies, which has made it easier for me to study.”

Herd health experienced first-hand

Shira-Lee Samson of team Moo-chas Grass-ias said they learned a lot about animal health management during the challenge. “We lost two calves to gousiekte. This was a huge setback for the group.” She went on to explain the cause of gousiekte: “Our cattle ingested poisonous plants during backgrounding and not at the feedlot. Once they were under a bit of stress, for example when weighing, they suddenly became sick weeks after ingesting the plants”.

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Team Moo-chas Grass-ias won best group of steers, and the bull affectionately known as Kevin, placed third in the steer category.

Team Star Wors’ Deepali Narotam said they also had unique challenges. “We had a shocking case of heartwater; even the doctors were shocked that we had this case,” said Narotam. “That is why I would sum up our challenge in one word: unique. The entire experience was beneficial from start to finish. The practical experience taught us things we had never learned before and built on skills that we already had.”

Star Wors walked away with ribbons for best heifer out of a group of three as well as second-best individual heifer. – Ursula Human, AgriOrbit