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Reduce stress when weaning and moving cattle

Zeb Gray for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 July 2021
Transportation of cattle

Now is the time of year when many producers are weaning calves, and new cattle will be entering feedlots. During this stretch, stress is the number one issue that will influence performance.

How you decide to act in the upcoming hours and days will have an immense impact on how well calves perform. Getting them acclimated to their new environment and starting them on a correct nutritional program will significantly affect their health, thus impacting performance and, ultimately, profitability.

Here’s what you should keep in mind during the weaning period and how to help cattle make a smooth transition to their new setting.

The most stressful period is when animals are moved from a known environment to a new location

Transitioning cattle from the pasture into a feedlot is a stressful time. Cattle can suffer significant weight loss, often losing half a percent of bodyweight for every 100 miles of transport. Animals that lose a substantial amount of weight are at a high stress level and are at higher risk of sickness, which can also have a negative effect on rumen function. During transport, a lot of the weight they’re losing is water weight, which is why cattle finding the waterer and rehydrating after arrival is so important. Not only do the different tissues need to be rehydrated, but the rumen contents are in excess of 85% water. Therefore, water intake drives feed intake.

Depending on your animal- handling techniques, people can add to stress or help prevent it. You can diminish stress by how you load cattle and unload them at the feedlot. Be sure to minimize yelling, running and the use of electric prods. It’s better to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to animal health, and the good news is: Practicing good stockmanship costs you nothing out of pocket.

Acclimating cattle to their pen can be beneficial, especially if it is a relatively large pen. Ideally, we would like the pen to be wider than it is deep so the bunk is always closer to the animal. Pen acclimation does not have to take a lot of time. Without acclimation, cattle will commonly find a corner in the back of the pen and be hesitant to leave that corner because it has the least amount of pressure.

Spending a few minutes after initially placing them in the pen can pay dividends in cattle finding the waterer or feedbunk more quickly. Moving cattle with some simple body pressure to each corner and then releasing that pressure will help cattle become at ease throughout the pen.

There are several steps to be taken to make sure the transition to a new feedlot is smooth

A good rule of thumb is to let calves rest one hour for each hour they spent on the truck before they are run through a chute again for processing. In order to get rumen function moving in the right direction, start at processing by drenching calves with an immune health support product. Use a product designed to naturally balance rumen microbiota and optimize the rumen environment.

An oral drench is usually a one-time deal and administered when cattle are processed that first day. Drenches are rapidly gaining in popularity, as they are easy to use and relatively inexpensive, adding very little to processing costs.

Just like you want a nice clean room when you check in to a hotel, the receiving pen should be cleaned before the cattle arrive. Often when we think about bedding, we think about it being needed because it is muddy. However, bedding will encourage cattle to lie down even if it is dry. This helps reduce the calf’s maintenance energy requirement. Bedding cattle also reduces ground temperature if you are receiving calves when it is hot – again, encouraging them to lie down.

Providing high-quality forage or hay will entice calves to the bunk since it’s a familiar feedstuff. This should be readily available to help get their rumen going again. You want enough bunk space that all the calves can come to the bunk at the same time (generally around 18 to 24 inches per head).

If bunk space is limited and you only want to feed at one time of day, then providing a split feeding where a second round of new feed is delivered approximately two hours after the first works well. This gives time for the more aggressive calves to eat first and the more timid calves a chance at fresh feed. The easier you make the transition for young calves, the better they will grow and perform throughout their time in the feedlot.

Nutrition plays a key role in a smooth transition, especially with products that enhance rumen function

New arrivals may eat poorly for the first few days until they become accustomed to their new surroundings, their new penmates and a new ration. Abrupt changes in feed can disrupt rumen function. Work with a nutritionist to ensure a nutrient-dense diet that contains adequate energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to overcome their low intake.

The condition of the ration is very important. Wet feeds and fermented feeds will help condition the ration to minimize the amount of sorting the cattle are able to do. A good rule of thumb is: The receiving diet should be between 55% to 65% dry matter.

It’s also beneficial to include an immune support feed additive in the ration to help restore the microbial population and promote rumen health. Not only can this help with consistent feed intake, but it can also improve rumen function and the overall health and well-being of cattle.

All incoming cattle will experience stress of some kind. The steps you take to lessen this stress are critical in newly received calves. By minimizing their stress upon arrival, helping them with a smooth transition and providing a proper nutrition program, you can help get these animals started off right.  end mark

PHOTO: Transportation of cattle from one pasture or location to the feedlot is one of the more stressful events in the animals’ lives. Staff photo.

Zeb Gray
  • Zeb Gray

  • Technical Feedlot Specialist
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