By Dan Goehl
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As temperatures decrease, it’s time to think about weaning calves or filling pens with purchased calves. Young, light, freshly weaned calves also bring a unique set of health management challenges to the lot.
This class of cattle is at risk for respiratory disease due to high stress associated with this stage of production. Risk of pathogen exposure is greatly increased if animals from multiple sources are combined in one location for growing. A decrease in performance due to illness at weaning may haunt the calf until he is harvested, which in turn decreases profits for each stage of production.
There is not one simple way keep all animals healthy. Protection from disease is our ultimate goal. This is accomplished when we can keep the challenge of disease below immunity levels. It is up to us, as producers and livestock specialists, to raise immunity levels and lower disease challenges.
No excuse for bad management. Vaccines are an important tool, but do not expect them to overcome management shortcomings. The best way is to do all of the little things correctly. There is no substitute for attention to detail. A good health program involves all farm personnel and continuous improvement.
Disease patterns often mirror cattle flow. “All in, all out” procedures would be ideal, but not always practical. To minimize the effect of adding new cattle to an existing pen, try to limit transition time to three days.
Animal handling is critical because these are highly stressed animals that need good husbandry to overcome weaning stress. Newly weaned animals should be placed in receiving pens or pastures that have plenty of space for the cattle to feed and water.
Feed bunks and water troughs should be placed in the fence line, as cattle will walk the outer boundaries of the weaning area first. Place feed in the bunk and water in the tank prior to allowing the calves into the pen. They will immediately walk the fence, and you do not want their first discovery to be an empty bunk. If the cattle are not used to drinking from a tank or automatic waterer, set it to overflow for a day so they can find the source of water.
Our ability to maintain good health statistics starts at processing. Accurate processing records are key to maintaining quality control and evaluating the product’s performance. Each group of calves should have all initial and booster health procedures recorded.
This is also important because many health products require a withdrawal time on each set of calves and proper records make compliance possible. These numbers can be maintained with minimal time and effort.
Processing should be as calm, quiet and efficient as possible to minimize animal stress. Loud noises and use of electric prods should be avoided. If these techniques are necessary to move cattle through the system, facility renovation should be considered.
The goal is to work animals as efficiently as possible—not as fast as possible. Improperly administered products do not prevent disease. It is better to spend a few extra seconds to perform injections correctly than re-treat animals.
Dan Goehl, DVM, and his wife own and operate Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, MO, where Dan works primarily with stocker and cow/calf beef operations. Dan is also partner in Professional Beef Services, LLC, which offers herd consultation and helps in data management and marketing of beef cattle.
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