Management ensures good transition from cow to feedyard
Ensuring that a calf's transition from weaning to the feedlot is smooth is the primary job of a stocker operation. However, that transition can often times be a challenging one.
Proper management of these cattle post-weaning can make the difference on the bottom line.
Dale Blasi, director of the Kansas State University Beef Stocker Unit, said cow-calf producers can help the transition for their calves from the cow to the stocker producer by ensuring those calves have gone through a low-stress weaning period.
"Weaning is an important time for the calves and stress can lead to a weaker immune system, thus creating other problems that will ultimately reduce the value of a calf as it ultimately reaches harvest ," he said. "For example, fenceline weaning is one such management tool that helps minimize stress."
He also said making sure calves have their proper immunizations, employing proper beef quality assurance guidelines is important. Vaccines should be stored and handled properly and shots should always be given in the correct location on the animal. Following the label and the directions of your veterinarian are important.
Blasi said castration at a young age is another factor stocker producers must deal with.
"While the practicality of castration is important, it is also important for cow-calf producers to realize waiting until a calf is 400 to 500 pounds to castrate, can lead to a longer recovery time," he said.
Dealing with intact males and the associated negative set backs observed in performance and economic value is a major challenge that stocker producers must deal with.
Blasi said upon arrival stocker producers should evaluate each load for health and soundness issues. The source of the cattle should be contacted immediately if any problems are present and all parties should have a prior agreement in case a problem should arise.
"When the cattle get off the truck, I would recommend giving them a rest and ensuring they have clean water and a source of long stem grass hay available," he said. "Then processing the cattle as soon as possible is the next step."
Blasi said the key health challenge for stocker producers is bovine respiratory disease (BRD).
"BRD is the wild card in stocker management. If producers can prevent it from rearing its ugly head, the cattle will perform much better in the long haul," he said.
Risk factors involved with BRD can include long hauls, how cattle are handled, percentage of bulls to be castrated, environmental conditions and co-mingling cattle from different sources.
Blasi said while producers may not want to spend the money to treat each animal with mass treatment with antimicrobials, sometimes it is well worth the cost.
"Preventing problems that cause setbacks is the key. Animals in transition are a perishable product and minimizing the impact from stress is critical," he said. "It's similar to harvesting and shipping garden produce. If mishandled on the way to their final destination, it impacts the bottom line for producers in terms of reduced shelf life, etc."
Ensuring cattle are as healthy as possible and are handled properly can prevent future problems.
At the KSU Beef Stocker Unit, calves are also routinely tested on arrival to determine if there are any persistently infected (PI) bovine virus diarrhea (BVD) carriers. These PIs can transmit BVD on to other animals, which lead to a variety of other problems.
If a calf is found to be a PI for BVD at the stocker unit, it is sorted to be disposed of in order to prevent further problems. He said they will typically get one PI for every 300 head of calves.
Blasi recommends for producers to know the BVD status of the animals they are feeding; and getting rid of the PI carriers may help with the overall health and performance of the cattle.
Stocker cattle should be given the usual health vaccinations upon arrival. Blasi said it's important for producers to have a good working relationship with a veterinarian in order to have someone to help advise on health issues if they should emerge.
Cattle that are purchased through an auction market generally have no health history; therefore he said all animals should be treated equally and go through the same health program.
Because these stocker cattle are typically put through many stresses, Blasi said at the stocker unit they do not dehorn or tip horns.
"We don't want to overstress the cattle, so we defer this procedure to the feedyard," he said.
A good clean water source is one of the most important nutritional factors that need to be provided. Running water for calves upon arrival is a good practice for calves to be able to find water.
Blasi recommends a good long stem hay to help get calves on feed quickly. A diet high in fiber with minimal starch content is what works best for the calves on feed at the stocker unit.
Prairie hay with a 5 to 7 percent crude protein level seems to be the standard receiving forage for producers in Kansas and Oklahoma. He said adding a low percentage of alfalfa to the diet with a crude protein level of 15 percent can be used also. However, he warns of adding any more than about 20 to 30 percent alfalfa to the diet as it can lead to problems with bloat and loose stools.
He said oat hay is another good quality product that works well for stocker cattle.
"These cattle can get by on a bit lower quality forage as long as the hay is clean and free from mold," he added.
For producers with an available source of ethanol co-products, Blasi said, those can be a good economical feed source as well.
Feed additives and ionophores can be a good option for stocker cattle to help with feed efficiency and gains.
Implanting cattle with growth hormones is a management decision each producer must make. He said it is important for stocker producers to know where the cattle are going next and what those feedyards prefer that they do.
Because feedyards want to keep down the cost of gain, they want stockers to come to their yards as heavy as possible.
Cattle typically leave the KSU stocker unit at 800 to 850 pounds. These cattle have usually been on feed for about 150 days and have gained 300 to 350 pounds since their arrival.
He suggested training calves to come into the working area prior to shipment out to the feedyards. Weigh-up conditions become very important to prevent significant shrink at shipping time.
Proper handling and good animal husbandry can help ensure good gains. A good facility and good equipment will prevent bruising of the animals. Bringing cattle up to be worked in smaller groups can prevent injury as well.
"If a stocker producer can get the cattle bought right, keep them alive, using the best possible source of feedstuffs, they will vastly improve their odds of it being a positive outcome," Blasi added.
Jennifer Bremer can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.