Reduce Stress When Weaning to Reduce BRD Outbreaks – Part 2

The process of weaning calves is a significant contributor to bovine respiratory disease (BRD) outbreaks. Because BRD is more likely to occur in cattle when they are put in stressful situations, there are steps to consider to minimize the risk.

Vaccination Before Weaning

The first step is to vaccinate a calf two to four weeks before being weaned from the cow. By vaccinating pre-weaning, and assuming that the calf is 4 months of age or older, you can capitalize on a calf’s in-balanced immune system while it’s still on the mom, still in familiar surroundings, still on the nutritional plan it has become accustomed to and still likes the water source. This in-balanced immune system of the calf allows it to properly respond to the administered vaccine. This allows for 14 days (minimum) to 28 days (optimum) of vaccine response prior to the calf being weaned, stressed or co-mingled.

Minimizing Transport Distance
Minimizing the transport distance post-weaning is another key step. Experts say that three hours should be considered the maximum time of transportation. Continuing with a familiar feeding and water regimen for three to four months post-weaning is also important. New cattle at a new facility rarely drink enough water for several reasons – they don’t like the taste, they’re unfamiliar with the watering facility or there is too much competition. Producers need to spend more time monitoring water consumption. Almost all cattle are dehydrated for the first week and as soon as they become even three to four percent dehydrated, their blood starts to thicken. When this occurs, the bacteria that are in the respiratory track have an easy environment to take over.

Monitoring Feed Intake
Once water consumption is managed more aggressively, then feed intake is necessary. Every animal should eat two to three times a day with ample ability to find enough to eat. A change in feed can result in several days of not eating. Buying hay from the same place as the cattle and mixing it half and half with local nutrients so that cattle have some familiarity with the food is an example of a good transition process.

However, the single best way to manage a calf’s fragile immune system at weaning is to wean and keep them at home for 30 days. This results in reduced stress because they’re getting the same feed and water as they did before. If all you’ve done is remove the mother from the calf and those animals remain in their known surroundings, then you can reduce the stress of this process and therefore, reduce your chances of experiencing a BRD outbreak.

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