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N&H TOPLINE: Five ways to reduce calf stress at feedlot receivingN&H TOPLINE: Five ways to reduce calf stress at feedlot receiving

A low-stress receiving protocol tailored to calves' needs can set them up for future success.

July 29, 2016

4 Min Read
N&H TOPLINE: Five ways to reduce calf stress at feedlot receiving

Is the feedlot receiving protocol causing stress, or is it seamlessly transitioning calves and setting them up for future success? The difference between a stressful and a seamless receiving period can have a significant effect on future performance.

“How we receive calves at the feedlot can affect performance throughout the feeding phase,” Chad Zehnder, cattle consultant for Purina Animal Nutrition, said. “The ultimate goal is to get cattle on feed quickly and keep them healthy so that they gain weight efficiently during the receiving period and throughout the rest of their time on feed.”

Zehnder suggested five tips that can help reduce stress in a feedlot receiving protocol:

1. Be prepared. “Have a plan in place for vaccinations, health protocols and feeding programs to help calves hit the ground running,” Zehnder said. “The more information you have on incoming calves, the easier it is to make health and nutrition decisions.”

Which vaccines, if any, have calves received? Have they been dewormed or castrated? What type of feed are they used to? Knowing these answers before cattle arrive can help create a more strategic plan for processing.

A separate plan for preconditioned and newly weaned calves is also beneficial to maximizing a receiving program. With a one-size-fits-all approach, feedlots might be investing unnecessary resources on preconditioned cattle and under-prioritizing high-risk, newly weaned cattle.

2. Reduce stress upon arrival. Transitioning calves from their herd of origin to the feedlot can be highly stressful for the calves, especially for those freshly weaned. Understand the stress levels of incoming calves, and set aside downtime before processing to help make the transition easier for them.

Calves that have traveled long distances may be dehydrated and tired from hours of standing when they arrive at the feedlot. To reduce stress before processing, it’s a good rule of thumb to allow one hour of rest for every hour the calves spent in transport.

Access to a clean, dry environment will also minimize stress and make calves feel at home.

“Proper pen conditions with access to shelter, feed and water are essential to help cattle feel comfortable when arriving at the feedlot,” Zehnder said.

3. Avoid the yo-yo effect. Monitoring feed intake and bunks is important to avoid what Zehnder calls the “yo-yo effect.”

“As calves pick up intake after arrival, we tend to increase feed significantly. We try to get calves to eat more at too quick a pace,” Zehnder explained. “Usually, this leads to calves crashing and going off feed again.”

“This cycle can follow calves throughout the whole feeding phase. It’s important to be consistent and methodical on any deliveries and increases of feed,” he added.

A good rule of thumb is to increase the amount of dry matter by 1 lb. every two to three days. For yearlings and preconditioned calves, this process can take 7-10 days, while freshly weaned calves can take 28-30 days.

4. Focus on fresh feed and feed type. “If calves leave feed in the bunk, they will typically not clean that feed up,” Zehnder said. “It’s likely spoiled, and you need to clear that out and deliver fresh feed.”

The feed delivered is also important. Look for a starter supplement that has appropriate trace mineral fortification, the correct protein makeup and proper feed additives that may help calves stay healthy during respiratory and health challenges.

When delivering a total mixed ration (TMR), it’s important to make sure the diet can’t be sorted. A diet that minimizes sorting results in nutrition that is consistent with every mouthful of feed. If feedstuffs are inadequate or unavailable to make a palatable starter diet, another option is to use a complete feed that can provide consistency and palatability.

5. Don’t forget water. The importance of water shouldn’t be overlooked. Staying hydrated can be a challenge for newly weaned cattle that are not used to automatic waterers.

“Calves will naturally walk the fence line when introduced to a new pen. Placing additional water troughs perpendicular to the fence will help maximize their exposure to water,” Zehnder said. “This strategy can be especially helpful for high-risk calves.”

Letting the water run over for a day or two can also be beneficial for cattle arriving at a feedlot. The sound of running water will help calves find water troughs more quickly. However, allowing water to run over can also result in poor pen conditions, so it’s important to control where the water flows and make every effort to keep the space clean and dry.

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