As ol’ man winter releases us from his grip, the pastures will begin to flourish. We’ve had a good fall and winter as far as precipitation is considered and forages are expected to take off quickly once the temperatures warm. Many stocker producers are hitting or will soon hit the stockyards in search of light feeders to turn on grass. Following are a few considerations to ponder this year as you consider buying those calves.
Preparation is essential to ensure that you have adequate supplies on hand. Take an inventory of your health supplies. Be sure you have adequate syringes, needles, and products to treat sick cattle. Be sure you have your thermometer and it is in working order. Order your vaccines, parasite control products, and implants in advance so you are not waiting for them to come in after the cattle have arrived. Discuss with your farm hands your treatment protocol for first and second pulls. Discuss when the veterinarian should be contacted and when a mortality should be sent to the diagnostic laboratory. Gather your processing tools and make sure everyone knows where to find them. It is not uncommon to have morbidity rates near 30%. Staying on top of the health program cannot be stressed enough.
Getting calves out of lots and on grass as soon as possible after processing has been shown to lower morbidity or sickness in purchased calves (Dalrymple http://www.noble.org/ag/livestock/stockercattle). These researchers transported calves the day of or the following day from the auction market. Feederswere processed immediately after arrival or the next day if they arrived during the night and then turned out to pasture or grass traps. This system was used with light feeders known to be fresh calves directly from the ranch or farm. Calves received a metaphylactic dose of an antibiotic at processing as well. Gains were near 1.8 pounds per day by the second week after arrival with sick non-treated calves gaining nearly a pound less than healthy calves. Sick calves that were treated gained only 0.5 lb less than healthy feeders. Detecting sick calves early and getting them treated continues to show positive impacts on performance and the bottom-line.
Provide access to fresh, clean water upon arrival. There is some debate on whether it is better to with hold water to stimulate more feed intake upon arrival or to provide water immediately. The research does not show benefits for withholding water upon arrival. Consider the rumen is 80% plus water and this water in important for the microbes to access the feed consumed and begin digesting the forage and feeds consumed. Several researchers have shown that restricting water intake negatively impacts feed intake, not something desirable in stressed calves. Provide ample access to fresh water upon arrival. Lastly, stocker produces should begin to consider their pasture management for the upcoming year. Review the quality of pastures from last year and plan to soil test early this spring. Apply fertilizer based on soil test results. Monitor pastures for clover as legume bloat has challenged many producers in the central Kentucky area the last few years. Visual assessments with clover near or exceeding 50% should trigger a bloat prevention strategy. Using feed additives such as poloxalene or monensin can aid in reducing the incidence and severity of bloat. Feeding hay and avoiding moving calves into legume fields following heavy dews or a rain also help reduce the risk to bloat. Apply seed to thin areas or areas damaged during the fall/winter feeding to control soil erosion, control weeds and increase grazable forage.
With feeder calf prices where they are this spring, spend some time preparing for the arrival of fresh stocker calves. Being prepared will allow for a planned response and less stress on you and the livestock. Reviewing things that you identified as needing repaired or improved now will allow them to get some attention before you are caught up in the day to day management of the calves. Good luck this spring and may you have ample grass all summer.
Source: Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, Beef Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky