With $7-plus corn and an increase in virtually all other input costs, feedyard owner-operator Scott Keeling knows he can’t drop his guard. With breakevens swelling, his rations include supplements that increase rate of gain and feed efficiency at the same time cattle are finishing faster and yielding more high quality beef than ever in history.

And in an era when volatile cattle prices can close market opportunities in a matter of minutes, Keeling demands products with a zero withdrawal period.

He owns Keeling Cattle Feeders, a 17,000-head capacity feedyard outside Hereford, TX, in the heart of the largest cattle feeding area in the world. He’s owned the yard since the mid-1980s. One product he’s added to his various rations the past two years is the beta-1 agonist Optaflexx® (ractopamine hydrochloride) from Elanco Animal Health.

When used according to label, Optaflexx provides increased rate of gain and improved feed efficiency during the last 28-42 days on feed. This enables energy from feed to improve muscle development and total red meat yield. And it has minimal effect on marbling – and tenderness – the eating quality that’s demanded by beef-loving consumers.

“I don’t want to have any limitations in my marketing,” Keeling says, when describing his various reasons for using Optaflexx in his feeding program. “We sell a lot of cattle ‘in the meat’ on different grids. We also sell a lot of cattle in the cash market.

“Sometimes you don’t have any control over your market. As hard as it can be to get cattle sold, the marketing time line the other beta-2 agonist has can be a problem. I don’t want to have my back against the wall. I like the zero day withdrawal provided by Optaflexx.”

A beta-agonist is among the tools recommended by Mark Miller, a consulting nutritionist from Elk City, OK. He works with numerous feedyards in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. He sees firsthand the impact that high input costs are having on fed-cattle closeouts.

“As inputs get higher and higher, anything that improves feed efficiency becomes more pronounced. With cost of gain everywhere from 90¢ to $1.20/lb. (and approaching $1.30), even if you can only improve feed efficiency by 0.1 lb., there can be a big savings.”

For example, if a steer consumes a $300/ton (dry matter) ration while on feed about 150 days, a 0.1 lb. savings will improve the cost of gain by 1.5¢/ lb., Miller says. That jumps to 1.75¢ if the ration is $350/ton. That’s an easy $7-$8/head in savings. And the profit potential for fed cattle on a beta-agonist program also climbs with a higher dosage of the beta-1 agonist.

Optaflexx is recommended to be fed at doses of 200 or 300 mg/head/day. At the 200-mg dose, steers typically see a 15-lb. increase in live weight gain and a 13.5-lb. increase in carcass gain. At the higher 300-mg dose, gain is increased even more –live weight gain by 22.5 lbs., and carcass gain by 20.3 lbs.

Miller says that when increased from 200 mg to 300 mg, Optaflexx noticeably increases feed efficiency. “The higher dosage has shown to be more beneficial in improving feed conversion,” he says. “That’s been pretty well adopted in the majority of clients I work with.”