Cattlemen’s Notebook

September 1, 2008 07:00 PM

Tips to reduce weaning stress

The stress associated with weaning can take a toll on calves—and cattle producers. Understanding the primary weaning stressors is the first step in managing the strain, says Kansas State University beef systems specialist Justin Waggoner. His suggestions include:
  • Don't add additional stressors. Castration, dehorning and branding add to the stress of weaning. These tasks should be completed at least three weeks prior to weaning.
  • Provide access to the weaning pen or pasture a few days or weeks prior to weaning. This allows calves to become accustomed to the area.
  • Feed cows and calves in the weaning pen or pasture. This allows calves to become familiar with feedstuffs, as well as the bunks, tubs or feeders.
  • Move the cows, not the calves. Once they are accustomed to the weaning pen or pasture, remove the cows, leaving the calves in a familiar area.
  • Allow fenceline contact. Research indicates that allowing fenceline contact between cows and calves for seven days after separation reduces behavioral stress and minimizes post-weaning weight loss. Fences should be sturdy and tight enough that calves cannot nurse. If fenceline contact is not practical, move cows to a location where they cannot hear calves.
  • Clean the pen. If using a drylot for weaning, remove the previous year's manure to minimize dust and allow pens to drain better.
  • Minimize fence-walking by placing feed bunks or water tanks along the perimeter of the weaning area.
  • With your vet, establish a vaccination program and a treatment plan for sick calves.

Spreadsheet determines feasibility of storing coproducts

To help farmers calculate the costs of storing wet distillers' grains or other coproducts on-site, University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) Extension specialists designed a spreadsheet called Co-Product STORE (Storage to Optimize Ration Expenses).

The spreadsheet allows producers to analyze and evaluate specific storage scenarios to take advantage of seasonal price lows, explains Josie Waterbury, UNL graduate research assistant who designed the spreadsheet along with UNL livestock marketing specialist Darrell Mark and animal scientists Rick Rasby and Galen Erickson.

Producers then can store the co-product and feed it at a later date. Coproduct storage also is particularly convenient for many cow–calf operations and smaller feedlots that are unable to use an entire truckload of coproducts at one time, Rasby says.

Previous research found ethanol co-products are excellent feedstuffs for feedlot cattle. In addition, research shows wet distillers' grains will not spoil over an extended period of time if oxygen is eliminated. Adding minimal amounts of dry, bulky feedstuffs to wet distillers' grains also solves that problem, Erickson says.

Co-Product STORE can help producers determine if the total storage cost is cheaper than what would be paid for the coproduct at a later time without storage, Mark says. Co-Product STORE is available at the UNL Beef Web site ( For more information on storage techniques, a manual is available on the UNL Beef Web site called "Storage of Wet Corn Co-Products.”

How to market preconditioned calves

Extracting the most profit from a value-added product, such as a veterinarian-certified preconditioned calf, requires a little thought in marketing.

"Calves that have been through a proven third-party certified preconditioning program can bring producers significant bonuses on sale day,” says Dr. Van Ricketts, director of corporate accounts at Merial. "But producers may leave a lot of money on the table if they don't take the steps to market their cattle properly.”

Preconditioned calves have different baselines for different people. For some, it means calves have received one round of vaccinations; for others, it means calves have gone through health protocols, such as multiple vaccinations, deworming, weaning and other best management practices.

Dr. Ricketts recommends the following measures to help market preconditioned calves:

  • Sell at advertised specialty sales featuring calves managed in a similar fashion. These sales attract buyers who value specialty programs.
  • If a specialty sale isn't available, make sure the auctioneer and buyers are aware of program protocols.
  • Don't forget to outline protocols when selling private-treaty because healthy calves that perform are valuable to all buyers.
  • If selling to a repeat customer, leverage past feedyard performance to command a larger premium. 

Cut input costs

Ron Gill, Texas A&M Extension beef cattle specialist, says that while cattle producers have no control over rising input costs like fuel, feed and fertilizer, they can control how much of these commodities they use. Some aspects to consider:

  • Re-evaluate the type of pickup you drive based on fuel price. Right now, gas is cheaper than diesel.
  • Cut out nonproductive driving.
  • Make sure you have the right type of cattle and herd size to fit your environment.
  • Have someone evaluate your operation to help you cut costs.
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