Sending healthy calves to the feedyard

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Last week during a program and banquet celebrating the 40th anniversary of Decatur County Feed Yard in Oberlin, Kan., consulting veterinarian Galen Weaver addressed a group of ranchers who retain ownership of their calves through the feedyard. He outlined multiple aspects of disease exposure and immunity affecting calves through the transition into the feedyard, including these take-home points.

  • “Wean them for 45 days or let me do it.” Weaver says he and the feedyard can wean calves in the feedyard with minimal health problems, and that calves weaned for at least 45 days on the ranch stay healthy. But those weaned for shorter periods prior to shipping experience more health problems.
  • The usual culprits when shipped calves break with disease, in order of incidence are BRSV, IBR, BVD, improper handling of vaccines, timing of vaccination, poor communications between rancher and feedyard and “acts of God,” such as a storm at shipping time.
  • Vaccinate with at least two doses of modified-live vaccines, two weeks apart with the second shots two weeks prior to shipping.
  • Nutrition matters. Assuring good nutrition prior to shipping benefits calves’ immune systems.
  • Less stress equals better health. Do all you can to minimize stress during weaning, loading and shipping.
  • On the same note, quiet cattle have better health than flighty ones.
  • Calves that don’t get sick at your place might be less prepared for the feedyard than the ones that did. If your ranch experiences very low exposure and morbidity rates, additional vaccine doses might be worthwhile.
  • Vaccines only equal immunization if they are administered properly and the animal has a competent immune system. Handle vaccines the way you would beer – keeping them chilled in a refrigerator or cooler. Time their administration at least two weeks ahead of disease exposure and minimize stress to maximize vaccine response.
  • Be familiar with your calves’ morbidity patterns, and possibly adjust vaccine selection and timing accordingly.
  • Genetics matters and heterosis is good, in terms of calf health.


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