During my 30-plus years as part of the cattle industry, I have witnessed the last of the 3-year-old steers, probably the last of the 2-year-old steers, the continued wane of available yearling steers, an increasing dependence on calves and, most recently, a willingness to feed anything that will fill a pen, thereby generating cash flow and hopefully making a profit.
Veterinarians can tailor receiving programs based on the risk level of calves, and knowledge of their history prior to arrival at the feedyard facilitates planning and decision making. The vast majority of my clients were yearling-steer feeders until about 10 years ago. Over time, that changed to some yearling heifers, then more yearling heifers, then long-string single-source steer calves (preconditioned and weaned), then the heifer mates followed by put-together yearling steers, put-together calves (steers and heifers) and, finally, “four legs and a moo.”
That progression (or regression) has obviously increased our death loss, pull rates and animal-health costs. We’ve moved from highly predictable results to uncertainty as we try to evaluate whether or not any buy is a good risk.
All of that is to provide a trail to where much of the industry now finds itself — filling pens with whatever cattle we think might work.
A good place to start our discussion might be a classification system for newly received cattle:
• Low risk — Known source, preconditioned, weaned, Vac 45 or better, complete health history or heavier than 700 pounds.
• Moderate risk — Preconditioned, weaned or heavier than 700 pounds.
• High risk — Unweaned and/or lighter than 700 pounds.
• Ultra-high risk — Put-together, unweaned, no history and less than 700 pounds.
• Oh s***! – Put-together, unweaned, no history, mixed sex, stale, ugly, sick-off-the-truck.
We will all struggle to do much for the “Oh s***!” cattle, but here are some ideas for the others.
• Receive into a clean, dry pen that is wider than it is deep. (This may require remodeling.)
• Provide adequate bunk space (2 feet per head).
• Provide a freshly cleaned, unshared water tank with running water that the cattle can hear, smell and see.
• Offer 2 to 3 pounds of good-quality grass hay per head at penning, providing a good potassium source.
• Rest new arrivals for 12 hours for each 300 miles of haul prior to processing. Try to account for the standing time prior to trucking — i.e., travel at 50 miles per hour means six hours standing is equal to another 300 miles. Shrink of 6 percent or greater generally indicates fluid loss at the cellular level and will change cattle classification.