Receiving high-risk stocker calves
Tyler J. Braud, Instructor, School of Animal Sciences
As we look forward to football season and cooler fall temperatures, it’s also time to begin making preparations for receiving stocker calves to place on winter pasture. This can be a daunting task if producers do not have a well thought out plan in place before cattle are delivered. Many producers purchase high-risk, sale barn calves and place them into a stocker system before entering the feedlot. Stocker calves are typically lightweight, freshly weaned calves that are commingled and sometimes hauled a considerable distance. As a result of these factors, calves transitioning from a pasture based system into a stocker system can experience a multitude of stressors that increase the likelihood of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) and other factors that negatively affect animal performance.
A receiving plan should include a comprehensive health program that is designed with the guidance of a veterinarian. Cattle should be vaccinated for infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), parainfluenza virus type 3 (PI3), and bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV). In addition, calves should be individually identified, dewormed, castrated, dehorned, and implanted. Tissue samples should be collected and tested to identify cattle that are persistently infected (PI) with BVD, as they constantly shed the virus with no clinical signs. BVD-PI testing is an important management decision that can aid in reducing the incidence of BRD in cattle populations. In some cases, metaphylactic antibiotic administration may be a beneficial option to reduce the incidence of BRD. In a study conducted by researchers at Mississippi State University, cattle that received metaphylaxis were 51% less likely to be diagnosed with BRD during a 60-day receiving study. All health related management options should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Nutritional management is another important factor to consider with high-risk calves. There are unique nutritional challenges associated with receiving high-risk cattle and proper nutrition is critical for success. Feed intake of newly-received cattle is often low during the first two weeks after receiving. Since dry matter intake (DMI) is low, increased crude protein (CP) concentrations could be required to offset the effects of low DMI. Protein requirements based on the NRC (2000) system are largely a function of body weight and DMI. The amount of protein required during the first couple of days after arrival is heavily influenced by the amount of feed that is consumed. Louisiana producers have the ability to grow winter annuals such as rye grass for stocker cattle to graze. Baleage, hay, or stockpiled summer forages may be required if cattle are received before winter pastures are ready for grazing. Vitamins and minerals must be factored into the nutrition program as they can influence immune function. Depending on forage quality, a supplementation program may be required to meet the needs of growing cattle. The capabilities of each operation will dictate the type of nutrition program that can be implemented. Some producers may be able to house commodities, while others may only be able to utilize grazing and stored forages. Nutrient requirements can be met in a number of different ways utilizing a variety of feedstuffs.
Low-stress handling and Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines should be followed when processing or working cattle. It’s important to remember the little things such as proper vaccine handling and injection site management, proper use of prods and paddles, and always read and follow label directions. Processing cattle upon arrival may be a viable option if they are transported a short distance. In some cases, cattle are transported several hundred miles from the farm of origin to the stocker facility. If that is the case, it may be beneficial to allow a rest period before processing begins. The main goal of the receiving plan should be to minimize stress associated with the transition from the cow-calf system to the stocker system.
Stocker cattle production can be a profitable and rewarding enterprise for Louisiana beef producers. Several factors must be considered and management practices must be tailored to meet the needs of each operation. Producers should have a plan for marketing the cattle at the conclusion of the stocker phase. Stocker operators must realize that decisions made on their farm will have an impact further down the production cycle. As members of the beef community, producers should make decisions that positively impact animal performance as they travel through each segment of the industry. All cattle producers, regardless of segment, should strive to produce a safe, wholesome, and nutritious product for consumers to enjoy.
Braud, T.J., B.B. Karisch, S.G. Genova, D.R. Smith. 2015. Effect of crude protein levels and metaphylaxis on health, growth, and performance of newly received stocker calves and subsequent feedlot and carcass performance. (Unpublished data)
Fluharty, F.L., S.C. Loerch. 1995. Effects of protein concentration and protein source on performance of newly arrived feedlot steers. J. Anim. Sci. 73:1585-1594.
Galyean, M.L., L.J. Perino, G.C. Duff. 1999. Interaction of cattle health/immunity and nutrition. J. Anim. Sci. 77:1120-1134.
Karisch, B.B. 2012. Handling high risk cattle: Develop a sound receiving strategy. Cattle Business in Mississippi.