Getting the Right Cattle Nutrition and Health When Receiving Feedlot Placements

Ensuring calves are well set up for their time in the feedlot is always vital on animal well-being grounds but is particularly economically important given current higher feeder prices.
calendar icon 25 February 2015
clock icon 3 minute read

This is according to three extension specialists at South Dakota State University who have stressed the importance of minimizing the stress of weaning, marketing, and shipping.

The impact on bottom line, writes feedlot specialist, Reid McDaniel, and how to "properly receive" new cattle is one of the most important decisions a feedlot must make. 

Calves are better off for being vaccinated than not, whatever the programme - Reid McDaniel

Prior to Processing

An effective receiving program minimizes incidence of disease and gets cattle on feed, writes Mr McDaniel with the assistance of veterinarian Professor Russ Daly. The impact of nutrition on immunity is greatest during the first few days after arrival. The efficacy of a vaccination program is dependent upon the ability of a calf’s immune system to respond accordingly.

Feed and water intake rehydrates cattle, improves immune function, and promotes healthy rumen activity. Cattle are likely to be tired, thirsty, and hungry off the truck. For these reasons, calves should be rested for at least 24 hours in dry pens (bedded if necessary) before initial processing with free-choice access to high-quality grass hay and fresh water.

Processing/Vaccination Programs

Calves that have been properly pre-conditioned with vaccination against viral respiratory pathogens (i.e., IBR, BRSV, and BVDV) exhibit in general better health than non-pre-conditioned calves, regardless of the arrival vaccination program. However, in many cases, this is out of the control of the feedlot operator. The main questions then becomes, what vaccines should be used to help boost the immune response, and when should those be administered?

"Providing the required nutrients helps reduce stress-related weight loss, immune system suppression, pulls, and death loss."

Most studies show positive results from using viral vaccines in the arrival program. These vaccines include IBRV, BVDV, BRSV, and PI 3, and are available as modified-live or killed versions. Evidence for including bacterial pathogens such as Mannheimia, Histophilus, or Mycoplasma in vaccine programs is not as solid. While bacterial pathogens are the most important causes of bovine respiratory disease, they typically occur following an infection with a virus. Therefore, most current recommendations for vaccination upon arrival include viral vaccines (typically modified-live or intranasal) but not bacterial vaccines.

When considering timing, feedlot operators should remember that calves undergoing stress do not respond well to vaccines. Letting newly-received cattle rest overnight, or at least one hour for every hour transported, will allow stress levels to decrease before processing. Research suggests that delaying vaccination for even as long as 14 days following arrival resulted in better immune stimulation and lower levels of illness in groups of stressed calves (Richeson and co-authors; 2008). When cattle are well fed, they are better able to respond appropriately to vaccination.

Receiving Calf Nutrition

Providing the required nutrients helps reduce stress-related weight loss, immune system suppression, pulls, and death loss. Getting newly-received calves to eat is a common challenge faced by feedlots.

Depending on the previous history, some calves will eat and drink quicker than others. This is particularly true of preconditioned or creep-fed cattle. A common method that attracts cattle to the bunk and encourages feed intake includes delivery of the receiving ration after good-quality grass hay has been distributed evenly in the bunk.

Following this protocol for a few days after receiving gives cattle access to hay and introduces them to the new ration. Depending on the cattle, the time required to establish intake of the receiving ration may vary. As ration intake increases, the hay can be decreased until only the ration is being fed.

The basic components of a well-managed receiving nutrition program are outlined below:

  • Access to good-quality grass hay that is free of dust, mold, and weeds
  • Unlimited access to fresh water
  • Palatable ration ingredients
  • Adequate mixing to reduce sorting
  • Proper intake management (bunk calling)
  • Because intake is usually low, it is imperative that each bite of feed contains the adequate nutrients which meet the requirements of the cattle. Table 1 outlines nutrient recommendations for stressed calves.
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