Now is the time of year when many producers are weaning calves, and new cattle will be entering feedlots. During this stretch, stress is the number one issue that will influence performance. How you decide to act in the upcoming hours and days will have an immense impact on how well calves perform. Getting them acclimated to their new environment and starting them on a correct nutritional program will significantly affect their health, thus impacting performance and ultimately profitability.
Here are three things to keep in mind to help cattle make a smooth transition to their new setting:
1. The most stressful period is when animals are moved from a known environment to a new location:
Cattle can suffer significant weight loss, often losing half a percent of body weight for every 100 miles of transport. Animals that lose a substantial amount of weight are at a high stress level and are at higher risk of sickness, which can also have a negative effect on rumen function. During transport, a lot of the weight they’re losing is water weight, which is why cattle finding the waterer and rehydrating after arrival is so important. Not only do the different tissues need to be rehydrated, but the rumen contents are more than 85 percent water. Therefore, water intake drives feed intake.
Acclimating cattle to their pen can be beneficial, especially if it is a relatively large pen. Ideally, we would like the pen to be wider than it is deep so that the bunk is always closer to the animal. Spending a few minutes after initially placing them in the pen can pay dividends in cattle finding the waterer or feed bunk quicker. Moving cattle with some simple body pressure to each corner and then releasing that pressure will help cattle become at ease throughout the pen.
2. There are several steps to be taken to make sure the transition to a new feedlot is smooth:
A good rule of thumb is to let calves rest one hour for each hour they spent on the truck before they are run through a chute again for processing. To get rumen function moving in the right direction, start at processing by drenching calves with an immune health support product. Use a product designed to naturally balance rumen microbiota and optimize the rumen environment.
Providing high-quality forage or hay will entice calves to the bunk since it’s a familiar feedstuff. This should be readily available to help get their rumen going again. You want enough bunk space so that all calves can come to the bunk at the same time (generally around 18-24 inches per head). The easier you make the transition for young calves, the better they will grow and perform throughout their time in the feedlot.
3. Nutrition plays a key role in a smooth transition, especially with products that enhance rumen function:
New arrivals may eat poorly for the first few days until they become accustomed to their new surroundings, their new pen mates, and a new ration. Work with your nutritionist to ensure a nutrient dense diet that contains adequate energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals to overcome their low intake.
The condition of the ration is very important. Wet feeds and fermented feeds will help condition the ration to help minimize the amount of sorting that the cattle are able to do. A good rule of thumb is that the receiving diet should be between 55-65% dry matter. Consider including an immune support feed additive to help restore the microbial population and promote rumen health. Not only can this help with consistent feed intake, but it can also improve rumen function and the overall health and wellbeing of the cattle.
All incoming cattle will experience stress of some kind. The steps you take to lessen this stress are critical in newly received calves. By minimizing their stress upon arrival, helping them with a smooth transition, and providing a proper nutrition program, you can help get these animals started off right.