Starting Cattle is Serious Business

Published on: 09:53AM Sep 03, 2010


Zeb Prawl
M.S. Nutritionist, Great Plains Livestock Consulting

As fall approaches, another seasonal event is right around the corner for those that graze cattle through the winter.  This is the time of year cattlemen are preparing to buy the cattle they need to stock their winter pastures, and usually this means that they are preparing to get those cattle weaned, eating feed, and straightened out. 

The pre-weaned and vaccinated calf supply slowly grows each year, due to the numerous programs available across the country that are designed to benefit those producers that practice it.  However, the majority of calves sold every year still has no idea what a processing facility looks like, or even a feedbunk.  If those that are buying and receiving calves take the time to prepare for the arrival of these cattle, it can make the transition a lot easier for all involved.

Here are some points to consider before and during the arrival of newly received calves to your facility this fall:

  1. Clean your pens.  Summer is an excellent time to get your pens in condition for cattle.  This means not only scraping excess manure off the top and hauling away, but also hauling good dirt back in and filling the holes around the water tanks, bunklines, and fencelines where low spots have developed.  This prevents future mud holes that only get wider and deeper if left uncared for.
  2. Fix the fences.  Rehanging gates and patching holes in the fence can save you the time and labor that won’t be as readily available when all your pens are full of cattle.
  3. Get your bunklines in order.  Whether you just need to realign your bunks, or perform some repair/replacement, this is an important aspect of the process.  If feed is falling out and onto the ground, consider it wasted feed, and money out of your pocket.
  4. Get your diets ready.  If you are mixing a TMR, then have your diets evaluated and in place before you get cattle.  Doing so will help you make sure you actually have the right ingredients on hand and ready to go too.  And while not as predictable as in the past, this time of year typically is a better time to contract and buy ingredients if needed.
  5. Get your water sources ready.  Making sure that water tanks are working and clean helps to encourage water consumption of newly arrived cattle.  This is probably one of the most important steps to getting cattle on feed and healthy early – providing lots of good water.
  6. Get your bunk hay ready.  New cattle should never have to come into a confined pen without some type of loose prairie/grass hay sitting in the bunk.  This does several things for the cattle, and it doesn’t take a lot of hay (3-5 pounds/head):
    1. Encourages them to stop walking the fences when first put in the pen.
    2. Gets something into their bellies to satisfy and calm them down after the stress of handling.
    3. Encourages them to go drink water if they haven’t already.
      Hay in the bunk is always better than a round bale in the pen.  By having it in the bunk, you not only know how much the cattle eat every day, but you can limit the hay and make sure they are eating high quality, nutrient dense ration that is being provided to them.
  7. Provide balanced rations at the right amounts.  One of the most common mistakes practiced when starting calves is to provide them too much feed.  With the widespread use of corn by-products such as Distiller’s Grains, it is very easy to put together diets that are higher in protein (16-18% Crude Protein, DM basis) moderate in energy (46-48 Mcal/cwt NEg, DM basis) and still be very cost effective.  University research has shown that these rations can be fed at moderate amounts (up to 2% of body weight, DM basis) and perform exceptionally well.  Keeping calves just a little hungry will ensure that they keep coming to the bunk and will be easier to manage in all aspects of the starting program, including monitoring for health.