Maximize the potential of newly received cattle through health and management

By Multimin USA

Proper planning, preparation, and low-stress handling can help get new arrivals off to a good start
cattle feedlot at sunset
Photo by Taylor Pettigrew, courtesy of Foote Family Meats

Weaning and the subsequent events of a changing diet, shipping, and co-mingling are some of the most stressful events in a calf’s life, second only to birth. Maximizing newly received calves’ potential requires a thorough understanding of how to mitigate these and other stressors.

Preconditioning is beneficial

For purchasing decisions, calves that have been weaned at least 45–60 days and vaccinated are preferable. Preconditioning vaccination protocols can vary, but most contain vaccination and boosters for Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD), Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV), and Parainfluenza (PI3). These are the major contributors to respiratory disease and are the components of most 4-way viral respiratory vaccines. Preconditioning protocols also include vaccinations for 7-way clostridial, Pasteurella/Mannheimia, and Histophilus vaccination.

Deworming and an injectable trace mineral are also valuable. Studies show that giving an injectable trace mineral, such as Multimin® 90, that contains copper, zinc, manganese, and selenium, can increase the immune response to vaccinations, and that most received cattle are either marginal or deficient in these important trace minerals. Another component of some protocols is an open heifer and no-intact-bull guarantee statement. Preconditioned calves will have a higher upfront cost but should have less morbidity and mortality.

If incoming calves are not preconditioned or are from a source with unknown vaccination history, implement a vaccination protocol developed with the input of your regular veterinarian. Purchase vaccines and supplies ahead of time, and make sure your refrigerator is in good working order and maintaining proper temperature for vaccine storage. Prior to arrival day, review Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) procedures with your crew to make sure vaccines are handled, mixed, and administered properly.

In addition, check all fences and pens prior to cattle arrival. Pay particular attention to the handling facilities and make sure the cattle chute and headgate are in proper working condition. Calmly and quietly unloading and working cattle with sorting flags helps minimize cattle stress. Plus properly training pen riders and cattle handlers can pay big dividends. Their ability to identify sick cattle earlier yields better treatment success rates.

Two big drivers of health: Water and feed

Other than previous vaccination history, water and feed consumption are the two biggest drivers of morbidity (illness) and mortality (death) in incoming cattle. Animals that are dehydrated and those in a negative energy balance are much more likely to become sick, incurring treatment cost which further erode profit margins.

Water placement and its source in the receiving pen are very important. Positioning water along the perimeter is ideal so calves can easily find it as they check out their new surroundings. Consider that some calves may have only drunk out of a stream or pond, so they may not drink out of a lidded or ball float water source. Prop the lid open or move the ball out of the opening; consider allowing water to trickle to a slow overflow for a few days so that cattle can more quickly adapt to their new water source.

Hydration is very important to temperature regulation, as well as keeping a properly functioning biome. The biome is the collection of microorganisms that live in the intestinal tract. This collection of microorganisms lives in the mucous layer in the gut and helps protect against infection. Proper hydration is also essential for the mucous layers in the respiratory tract, which are a natural barrier to prevent viral and bacterial invasion.

Like hydration, proper nutrition is also very important to newly received calves, helping get them off to a good start. Work with your nutritionist to formulate a proper receiving ration; developing and keeping the rumen microbial population in good balance is an integral part in getting cattle on feed. That’s because the rumen — the main site of energy production — contains microbes that break down complex feedstuffs into simple nutrients called volatile fatty acids (VFAs). These provide 60 to 80 percent of an animal’s energy.

The three primary VFAs are propionate, acetate, and butyrate. Butyrate promotes epithelial growth and health, enabling cattle to better absorb nutrients. Functional papillae and villi are critical to rumen and intestinal health. If they are damaged, cattle cannot efficiently utilize energy from feedstuffs.

Animal performance is the goal

The transition to high-energy diets and stress can increase levels of lactic acid. Lactic acid, which is 10 times stronger than other rumen acids, is the primary influencer of rumen pH. As lactic acid builds up, rumen pH drops, which can cause a variety of issues such as reduced rumen motility, bloat, laminitis, damage to the rumen papillae and epithelium, and an inflammatory response that reduces immunity. Acute acidosis can even result in death. Using a rumen microbe additive can reduce the risk of acidosis. 

Implanting is another procedure which can add profitability by increasing weight gain and feed efficiency. While it is one of the highest return strategies for cattle, some organic or natural programs do not allow it. Therefore, weigh the potential bonus of not implanting versus the decreased cost of gain to make sure you are capitalizing on the potential benefit. If you do use growth implants, make sure proper implanting technique, including cleanliness, is utilized.

Temperature, humidity, and environmental dust also affect the health of newly received calves. Make efforts to provide shade during the hot summer months or a wind break from the cold winter winds. Keeping the dust under control with water can also help decrease respiratory issues that result from the dust particles irritating the respiratory tract and setting the stage for viruses and bacteria to cause pneumonia.

Lastly, if you are having issues or think your program needs adjustment, a meeting with your team, including your nutritionist and herd health veterinarian, is a good plan. Bringing everyone together to brainstorm and give input can lead to maximum efficiency and increased overall performance in the receiving process. Proper planning, training, and preparation can lead to reduced stressors, while getting newly arrived cattle off to a good start.

Receiving cattle checklist

  • Purchase preconditioned cattle, if possible
  • Make sure fences, pens, working facilities, including the cattle chute and headgate, are in proper working order
  • Properly place feed troughs, waterers, and hay within receiving facilities
  • Refresh crew on BQA practices and symptoms of sick cattle
  • Unload and work cattle stress-free
  • Consider administering products, such as an injectable trace mineral and rumen microbe additive, upon arrival
  • Evaluate benefit of implants

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