The challenges of receiving cattle start from day one. Being able to identify the early signs of illness in a feedyard calf goes all the way back to an animal’s first interactions. Read Part 1 of the Receiving Challenge.

“Weaning begins the day the calf is born,” says Tom Noffsinger, cattle handling consultant from Binkleman, Neb. “How you handle that momma cow is going to have an effect on that calf, and how you handle that calf from day one is going to help determine how that calf reacts to weaning.”

Still, transportation stress remains a primary determinant of how much work awaits feedyard employees. 

“As cattle come into the facility, setup of the receiving area is critical—as we want to get these calves off to a good start,” says Dan Thomson, DVM, Kansas State University. “Cattle that are hauled long distances go through many types of stress which could include maternal separation (weaning), transportation, water and feed deprivation and more. The people present at the time of unloading and at the receiving pen are the welcoming committee. Their job is to help the cattle recover from the stress while applying preventative health programs.”

Logically, Thomson and Noffsinger say cattle that just walked off the truck after a long ride need time to rest and recover. 

“The first thing long-haul cattle need to do when they arrive at their new home is lie down and rest,” Thomson says. “The receiving pen floor should be prepared in advance for the cattle to arrive.”

How much rest time?

Thomson says it depends on how long the cattle were in transit. 

“Our recommendation is that cattle are allowed to rest about one hour for every hour they were on the truck. Therefore, cattle hauled 20 hours need to have a day’s rest before they are processed,” he says. “Conversely, local cattle can be processed directly off the truck. Delaying processing more than a day after arrival is not recommended.”

Mud can be a significant factor in pen comfort, affecting the cattle’s rest period. Thomson says bedding should be applied to help cattle find a dry place to rest and recover.

“Another idea we’ve implemented is strategic pen maintenance,” Thomson says. “As we receive cattle, we might not have time to scrape the entire receiving pen. Using a box blade and making some trips through the pen to supply strips of comfortable spots for cattle to lie down is a good strategy.”

Noffsinger is adamant that access to clean water is paramount for new arrivals. “We want those cattle 

to drink as soon as possible. If they don’t drink they for sure aren’t going to eat, so it’s critical they have access to an adequate and clean water supply,” he says.

Thomson says to help cattle recognize the water supply, “we have created a slight spill of water on the ground when cleaning the water tank. Cattle use sight, smell and hearing as senses to find water, so we must keep that in mind when we are trying to get cattle to the water tank.”

It’s also important to have enough water tank space available for incoming cattle. “Don’t hesitate to put out some temporary water tanks that have to be filled manually when receiving cattle during times of high daily temperatures,” Thomson says.

Additionally, make sure the water tank is accessible for small cattle. If cattle can’t reach the water tank, supplying alternative water supplies or building up the ground around the water tank can be employed to help small cattle drink.

Thomson and Noffsinger stress that calf comfort is at a premium during the time of arrival, and the availability of a high quality forage is also important to that comfort and for rumen function. 

“Cattle recognize forage as a feedstuff and will usually start to fill up on hay after resting and getting a drink,” Thomson says. “This will help cattle start to reduce the effects of feed deprivation during the marketing and transportation processes. I recommend fluffing up the hay in the bunk to help the cattle recognize where it is located.”

Preconditioning calves is crucial for reducing the incidence of BRD in feedyards.

Photo: Wyatt Bechtel

Processing feeder cattle involves vaccinating, implanting, deworming and other animal health regimens as specified by your veterinarian.

Again, Noffsinger stresses the importance of low-stress animal handling during this time.

“Cattle that get bruised and battered during processing are going to be stressed and more likely to become sick,” he says. “They’re also  less likely to want to eat when they get back to the home pen.”

Processing should not be a timed event, but rather done quickly without haste, he says. 

“Cattle will remember how they are handled during processing,” he says. “That can affect how they react to the pen rider and if pulled for treatment later.”