When it comes to receiving cattle, having a plan in place is important, says Tom Edwards, a veterinarian with a consulting practice called Midwest Feedlot Services Inc. in Kearney, Neb. “Preparation is a big part of it. Pens should be cleaned and scraped, bunk rails set, water tanks freshly cleaned. If the calves coming in are just weaned, we may have some spray nozzles in them to splatter water and make a little noise,” he says. “If we’re in tough weather, we might put out some woodchips or straw bales.” For small calves, he sometimes runs some panels halfway through the pen to cut down on activity and dust once they arrive. Everything should be in order.
The planning should be in place before transport begins so that everything can happen in a timely manner. “We work on getting calves to producers in two days,” says Jessica Laurin, a veterinarian at Animal Health Center in Marion, Kan. “If you are trying to put together a group, they may be together for four or five days; we request order buyers to get them to the producer’s place in two days. That way, cattle are fresher. It does place more demand on the order buyer.”
There is also a lot of talk about where cattle sit in the truck, Dr. Laurin says. “We suggest producers watch them come off the truck, and see where they were and where the smokestacks sit. Those calves close to the smokestacks may have a better chance of getting sick. The producer should be there to watch them come off the truck anyway.” They, and the driver, can check to see if any were down on the truck, and also look at conditions inside. “There should be some fill, but if there is a tremendous amount of pack on the floor, the driver is not cleaning his truck on a timely basis,” she adds. “Those calves could have more health problems.”
Dr. Edwards requests trucks with bedding for long hauls. “It cuts down on lame cattle tremendously,” he says. Woodchips work very well.
In the heat of summer, it’s best to transport calves at night, and in the winter, during the day. “These are conversations for producers to have with order buyers, not in a negative way, but having good communication with the order buyer is the best way to make sure they understand what the producer is looking for,” Dr. Laurin says.
Jared Morgan is a backgrounder in Hope, Kan. His cattle are on the truck for 20 to 24 hours before they reach him; that long haul makes them high-risk animals. But once they get on the truck, he wants them at his place as soon as reasonably possible—no long stops on the way. “We do want the trucker to stop now and then to make sure nothing is down,” he says.
When cattle come in from a long haul like that, with 5 to 10 percent shrink, Dr. Edwards may let them stand for 12 to 48 hours before vaccinating. “Have some long-stem hay in the bunk, maybe a little ration, let them get some water and rest,” he says. “Then there’s a better chance for the immune system to respond to the vaccine. Too early can be as bad as too late. They’ll show us when they’re ready, if they’re up and around, looking hungry.”
The most important consideration with vaccinations is to control any immunosuppressive viruses that could set them up for secondary infections, he says, and to use an endectocide. Implants can be delayed if they’ll be getting revaccinated at 8 to 10 days. “The biggest focus is on getting the immune system kicked in,” Dr. Edwards says. “They’re not eating a whole lot of roughage anyway for the implant to help with performance in those early days.”
Which vaccines are used is best determined by veterinarian and producer together, depending on which diseases are a problem at that time of year, the size of calves, their vaccination history and which problems have a history at that particular place. Commonly, Dr. Laurin says, they give a four-way vaccination within 36 hours. If calves are going to be sitting in pens for some time, a blackleg vaccination might be delayed until booster time. “It can be more stressful to give that one,” she says.
Mr. Morgan agrees that the vaccination schedule is best decided on a case-by-case basis. “We look and see what they might need depending on how they look,” he says. That includes the mass-treatment decision. “That depends on their weight, if they had a rough trip, the number of bulls that would require banding—probably a million things, but mainly how they look.”
When it comes to the vaccines themselves, Dr. Laurin says producers need to remember to use vaccine in two hours once it’s mixed, to wash syringes every day, and to change needles every 10 to 20 head. “The longer they keep using needles, the greater the chance of spreading a disease like BVD,” she says. “If syringes aren’t clean, they can spread bacterial infections.”
Once in the pen, calves should have 12-18 inches of bunk space per head, and smaller calves, of course, need to be able to get their heads in the bunk. If hay is visible over the tops of the bunks, that can help them learn quickly where the bunks are. “Be sure you’ve talked to someone about the receiving ration and put a little in the first day,” Dr. Laurin says.
The pen shouldn’t be very large so calves stay close to the bunks, and so they don’t wear themselves out walking around it. The facility should be quiet, with little activity and noise around. “Spend a lot of time with them the first few days. Get them accustomed to the components of their new lives, the people and the feed trucks. But don’t be rushed or noisy. The slower and easier you work them, the better off they’re going to start,” Dr. Laurin says.
Low-stress handling is key to both health and performance. “I can’t emphasize the human factor enough,” Dr. Edwards says. “There should be no whistling, yelling or hot shots. Your presence should be as a friend, not a predator.” When calves are moved up an alley, he likes to have a pen rider at the front and the back so they can control the speed at which the cattle move.
One thing Mr. Morgan practices to ensure quiet handling is a prohibition on 4-wheelers in the pens. “I try to do all pulling on a horse. I feel the interaction between two animals is better than with a machine or a human,” he says.
He makes sure to feed them at the same time every day. When it comes to checking on them, “don’t feel you’re pulling too deep ever; if you have any question, don’t hesitate to take a look. The real secret is to be on top of cattle for the first week they’re there,” he says. “That will make or break the next 90 days.”