Reducing stress on cattle through sound stockmanship practices brings multiple benefits in performance, immunity and production efficiency, and the Creating Connections program from Merck Animal Health aims to help producers learn and implement those techniques.

Merck, in partnership with the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University and veterinarians with Production Animal Consultation (PAC), continues to expand the website with videos, testimonials and educational modules on stockmanship principles at various production stages. In a webinar this week, Merck’s director of technical services Rick Sibbel, DVM, along with Merck Veterinarian Paulo Loreiro, DVM and PAC consulting veterinarian Tom Noffsinger outlined the program and its ongoing development.

In addition to videos and other resources, the site currently features an educational module on acclimation, which focuses on the receiving period for cattle entering feedlots or backgrounding operations. Noffsinger notes that the transition from the ranch to the next production stage is a critical time for calves, with a high risk for injuries and stress-related illnesses such as bovine respiratory disease (BRD). He described the “negative cycle” that can occur at this stage, with stress leading to increased cortisol levels, depressed immune systems, disease susceptibility, poor health and weight loss, which leads to more stress and the cycle continues. Bacteria associated with BRD commonly colonize the upper respiratory tract of calves without causing illness, he notes. But when the calves experience prolonged stress and reduced feed and water intake, those bacteria become more pathogenic, move into the lungs and cause clinical BRD.

The acclimation process outlined in the educational module helps producers avoid that negative cycle and shift to what Noffsinger calls the “confidence cycle.” In this process, crews begin working with cattle from the time they arrive on the truck. Immediate acclimation builds a comfort level that allows calves to begin eating, drinking and resting, and they build confidence in their handlers and their new home. The resulting reduction in stress leads to better immunity, long-term health and performance, while also making life easier for workers.

In a series of videos, Noffsinger and others demonstrate how handlers can take advantage of multiple opportunities to build trust with cattle from arrival and continuing through the receiving period. Merck plans to launch a new module on feedyard stockmanship shortly, again with input from the Beef Cattle Institute and PAC.

While the current offerings on the site focus primarily on stocker and feeder cattle, Noffsinger notes that good stockmanship at the cow-calf stage can reap long-term benefits. Even with nursing calves, he says handlers can work to build trust between themselves, cows and calves, which can improve the bond between cows and calves and lead to more frequent nursing behavior and better calf health. Ranchers also can use stockmanship principles to prepare calves for a less stressful weaning experience, further protecting their health and performance through the transition to the next production stage.

The site is available for anyone to use, and users can register on the site to receive updates and other information. Producers who complete the educational modules can take a test and receive a certificate documenting their stockmanship training.