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.
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.
• Re-feed the hay when it is cleaned up, adding 1 pound of receiving ration per hundredweight of bodyweight.
• Observe often, pull if needed, re-feed to appetite but do not exceed 2 pounds per hundredweight prior to day 10; decrease the hay as intake increases.
• For preconditioned animals, do not use a seven-way vaccine; for others, no seven-way prior to day 10 to 14.
• Do not implant prior to day 14. Most death loss has occurred by this time, and we saved money with this policy.
• Use a five-way viral vaccine, deworm and tag at initial processing. We also give a nasal.
• For cattle with high-risk or higher assessments, record body temperatures for each animal, and use a long-acting metaphylactic antibiotic on those under 104.5° F and a quickeracting antibiotic on those over 104.5° F.
• At booster time, give a seven-way, if needed; implant, pour, if needed, and boost the five-way viral vaccine.
• Provide a dedicated water tank to each receiving pen. If fence-line waterers are the norm, consider turning the tank 90 degrees, adding a tee and another water source, then sheet the space between the tanks.
• Sheet or tarp the fence between adjoining pens to discourage nose-to-nose contact.
• Use panels or hot wires to modify the shape of existing pens to keep cattle closer to feed and water and easier to observe. Wide and short is better than narrow and long. One-hundred square feet per head works well unless you’re wet.
• Process new cattle through a thoroughly cleaned facility. Power-wash and disinfect, if possible, and do not process after treating sick calves without cleaning up first.
Products to consider
• Chromium, which is an insulin precursor.
• Chlostat, which is a feed-grade anti-clostridia.
• Multimin, an injectible source of selenium, zinc, copper and vitamin E.
• Nasal vaccines for a jump start.
• Yeast cultures.
• A commercial starter feed.
• Brown sugar — For low-intake calves, grab a fistful and crumble on top of the feed. Cattle will see you and smell the sugar.
• Fever tag — This is an electronic ear tag with a wand that goes down the ear canal to pick up tympanic temperature at 104° F to 105° F, setting off a red flashing LED light identifying the animal.
• Chelated trace minerals for improved bioavailability and uptake.
• Feed-grade medications such as Aureomycin, AS700, Deccox, Amprovine.
• Direct-fed microbials.
• Higher-roughage receiving diets reduce respiratory-disease incidence but not enough to offset the economic value of the faster gains and better feed-per-gain ratio from a higher-concentrate diet. Thirty to 50 percent roughage works well.
• Any historic information that can be captured about the cattle, such as vaccinations, timing, products used, prenatal nutrition and temperament are all valuable.
• Know your order buyer and develop a relationship that leads to a mutual understanding of what you want.
• Success is the culmination of a good plan, executed by a well-informed team that understands the plan and communicates openly and honestly in a timely manner.
• Do not hesitate to pull! Better to pull too deep than not deep enough, and you cannot be too early. If in doubt, pull.
• Do not receive too many in a short block of time!
You can overwhelm your crew and your facilities, thereby guaranteeing a wreck.