Preparing calves for their future

Cattle handling early on can affect your long term reputation as a supplier of highly sought after feeder cattle.

How you handle the calves on your farm when they are young, directly affects their performance in the feed yard. According to veterinarians and professionals who work in the field, producers should start early on in a calf’s life using calm handling techniques. Dr. Kip Lukasiewicz of Sandhills Cattle Consultants in Ainsworth, Nebraska, also recommends that producers follow these steps while moving cattle in a pasture rotation system:

  • Respect the bond between the cow and the calf
  • If pairs are resting when you get there to move them, slowly walk through them, giving them ample time to pair up.

Often times we are in a hurry to get things done, and this doesn’t always produce the most positive results. Another item that you may want to consider is leaving the back fence open for a time to allow younger calves plenty of time to move to the new grazing paddock.

It’s also recommended that you complete a “dry run” now and then where calves are calmly separated from cows for an overnight period and then reunited the next morning. The thought process is to show young calves that separation from the cow can be tolerated. This could be done when you have the cows in for AI, or during a time like branding or tagging. Calves can also be periodically run through the chute and alleys just to help get them used to it.

As a cow-calf producer, it’s also extremely important to document the practices that you have implemented. These can be:

  • Handling procedures, both on farm, and in transit from farm to yard
  • Weaning procedures
  • Vaccinations (specific vaccines used)
    o   Be very specific when documenting what vaccine protocol you have used, preciseness really matters. For specific information on record keeping, refer to the “Group Processing Treatment Record” found on the MSU Beef Team website:
  • Castrating
  • Dehorning
  • Weaning
  • Treating for internal and external parasites
    o   Be specific in the products that you have used
  • Administering implants
  • Adapting calves to feed or bunk breaking them
  • Current ration

According to a recent survey conducted by Kansas State University, feedlots prefer to modify their animal processing programs when they know that they are receiving preconditioned calves. However, if you do not let them know, the feedlots have to assume that nothing has been done. The surveys also indicated that third party verification can add to the level of trust that a feedlot is willing to put on a producers claim, and that they were “likely” to pay more for these types of preconditioned calves.

Communicating what you have done on your farm to the feedyard or the auction market also helps those down the line know what you have done with your calves to prepare them for the future. It makes the transition from the cow-calf operation to the feedyard that much easier and tolerable for the calves, and can aid in their overall health. Anything that you can do to help cattle adjust will ultimately make you a more attractive cow-calf producer, and will help to ensure a long term relationship with your feedyard or auction market.

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