Onderstepoort Feedlot Challenge

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Onderstepoort Feedlot Challenge

By Marike Brits –  Stockfarm August 2018

There has been some hustle and bustle around the kraal at the University of Pretoria’s Onderstepoort veterinary campus. Since middle February, eight groups of veterinary students have been feeding and managing cattle in a simulated feedlot environment as part of the Onderstepoort Feedlot Challenge.

These fifth-year Onderstepoort veterinary students, 176 in total, fed and managed their cattle for 105 days. The compulsory 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 sparking 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. “An entirely practical approach was 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 the ins and outs of feedlots.”

The real deal

During the challenge the students were responsible for just about everything. This included processing of 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.

To conclude the challenge, detailed reports on all these aspects had to be handed in, including facts and figures, lessons learnt, and plans made. The challenge concluded with presentations by each team. These presentations and the reports were judged by a team of judges made up of lecturers and sponsor representatives.

“We have been involved in this competition for the past three years, and I have to say today’s presentations have certainly been the most creative to date,” said Gorette Moutinho of Zoetis, right before the winning teams were announced.

She says the numbers play a major role in deciding the winner, but it involves much more. It is about learning and finding out what you could have done differently to achieve better results. “This is where the presentations are important, as it gives the students the opportunity to share what they have learned, how they handled certain challenges and what they could have done differently.”

What the winners learned

Team four, From Birth to Large Girth, fetched third place and was especially lauded for the technical excellence of their presentation and the lessons learned, which they shared during this presentation. “Among others, we’ve learned that calf selection is a key factor in determining the profitability of a feedlot, that feedlots have a very narrow profit margin, and that energy is the most important limiting factor in the feedlot ration,” the group said.

In second place was team three, The Red Bulls. Great teamwork was what stood out for this team and, from start to finish, their co-operation was evident in their results. “Personally, one of the greatest lessons I have learned is trusting people with more technical knowledge than me and actually asking these people for help. Never be ashamed to ask for help,” said Thandekile Maseko, team leader.

In the end team five, High Steaks, was announced as the winner. Also boasting an excellent presentation and great teamwork, it was their tight project management and the fact that they performed the best financially, that singled them out as the winner.

“The Onderstepoort Feedlot Challenge was such a great experience and we learned so much from working with the cattle hands on. I am sure several future production animal veterinarians were born in the process,” said Mardi Nel, team leader, after her team was announced the winners of the 2018 Feedlot Challenge. The full results were published on www.opfeedlotchallenge.co.za.

On-the-hoof results

Besides the final winners, another highlight was the on-the-hoof evaluation where the animals were judged by fatstock judge, Johan Odendaal, before being slaughtered. In his feedback, he placed the focus on good conformation, even fat spread, strong backs, and more. “The students did very well, I saw overall good conformation and there was good competition among them.”

The on-the-hoof results were as follows:

Bulls: 1st – The Red Bulls; 2nd – Beefcakes.
Heifers: 1st – High Steaks; 2nd – Die Vetter Die Better.
Group of bulls: 1st – The Red Bulls; 2nd – Beefed-Up.
Group of heifers: 1st – Basically Beef; 2nd – High Steaks.

Loyal supporters

According to Dr Morris, a project such as this needs a lot of resources and they are thankful to say that everything, from the cattle to the feed, is sponsored by their loyal supporters. The sponsors are the University of Pretoria, Zoetis, Sparta Beef, Fepro, Afgri, SA Premix, Tongaat Hulett Starch and Octavoscene.

The students expressed their gratitude to not only the sponsors but also Sr Reinette Ludike and Dr Morris for the time they invested in the challenge.

Two of the most important events on the challenge calendar are buying calves at a mock auction and formulating feed rations. The auction often becomes very interesting as excitement runs high, and it is a first-time experience for most of the students. During the first week, the students learned to mix the feed formulation and had only a few days to get the hang of this under strict supervision.

An animal nutritionist, Dr Henning Vermaak, mentored the students in this task and checked the formulations. Various other industry role-players are also actively involved in the success of the challenge, as evidenced by the sponsorships.

The teams together with the sponsors. From the left are Sr Reinette Ludike of the University of Pretoria, Henning Vermaak, feedlot nutritionist, Johan Odendaal of the SA Fatstock Judging Association, Luzaan Beukes of SA Premix, Martin Botha of Tongaat Hulett Starch, Sunette Gildenhuys of SA Premix, Dr Barry van Houten of Zoetis, Estelle van Reenen of Sparta Beef, Jacques de Jager and Isabella Erlank of Zoetis, Ryan Harrison of SA Premix, Gorette Moutinho of Zoetis, Stuart Crook of Tongaat Hulett Starch, and Dr Shaun Morris of the University of Pretoria.

Isabella Erlank of Zoetis, Thandekile Maseko of team The Red Bulls, Johan Odendaal, on-the-hoof judge, and Chanelle Diedericks of team Beefcakes.