As marketing season approaches for this year’s calf crop, this is the time to prepare calves for minimal stress through weaning, transport and transition into the next production phase.
Anyone who has pulled up stakes and moved to a new location knows just how stressful it can be. The same is true for calves, particularly as they move from pastures to the unfamiliar feedlot environment.
Cattle feeders well know the importance of the receiving period. Calves that settle in easily tend to stay healthy and gain weight, while those experiencing a difficult transition go off feed, lose weight and become more susceptible to disease.
Ideally, the “training” process begins well before weaning, but it’s never too late to start. Michigan State University Extension Livestock Specialist Ben Bartlett, DVM, says reducing stress through the weaning period entails a mix of seemingly conflicting approaches. On one hand, he says, you want to minimize change for the calf, such as through fencline weaning. In this system, the calf retains access to its dam, along with the same forage and the same water. The only thing that changes is its access to milk.
On the other hand,
Noffsinger says cattle deserve five freedoms -- freedom from hunger and thirst, environmental stress, disease, anxiety and injury. In newly arrived feedlot cattle, he says, stress, unfamiliarity, social disruption, no opportunity to get to the bunk, dehydration and exhaustion can create non-eaters and non-drinkers. "These are all management-related issues," He says. And while managers can't control the weather, they can reduce environmental stress by scraping pens and managing the mud..
Noffsinger and Locatelli emphasize that good handling should begin back at the ranch, and calves developed with low-stress methods will adapt more easily to transport and the transition into the feedlot. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and loads of flighty calves often arrive at the feedlot unaccustomed to handling of any type, leaving susceptible to stress and all its consequences.