August 11, 2015
By Kevin Hill, D.V.M.
The most stressful period in a calf’s life comes at weaning. This is due to both the separation from its dam and also the other activities that typically occur at this time, namely vaccination, shipping, co-mingling and nutritional changes. The key to reducing this stress is to spread out the stressors. That’s the essence of a pre-weaning program – it gets the calves prepared for stress well before the stress actually occurs. And with today’s high-value calves, now is the time to take a close look at the products and procedures available that can help reduce stress and improve calf health and productivity.
Instead of waiting to vaccinate calves on arrival at a feedyard (where they may encounter disease before the vaccine ever has a chance to take effect), vaccinating calves while still on the cow, two to three weeks before weaning, allows the calf adequate time to develop resistance before being exposed to disease. Some vaccines are less stressful to calves than others, so be sure to talk to your veterinarian about your best choices. For example, intranasal vaccines can often provide effective protection against viral and bacterial respiratory diseases without creating unnecessary additional stress.
All health and productivity depends on good nutrition, so look for ways to make the nutritional transition from grass and mother’s milk to the feed bunk as smooth as possible. Creep feeding is a good way to teach calves to eat from a feed bunk. Access to water troughs before weaning also will help calves learn that not all water comes from a pond or a stream. And, making sure that calves have access to a well-balanced mineral before weaning is critical.
Virtually all calves can benefit from effective deworming prior to weaning, as gains will be better and response to vaccines will be more effective. For ease of use, some products are available that can be added to mineral or creep feed before weaning. Ask your veterinarian for advice about choosing effective products that will help avoid the growing parasite resistance problem common to many of the traditional deworming products.
The Superior Livestock Auction database shows the use of implants in calves has declined from 60 percent in 1995 to less than 30 percent in 2014. That same data also shows that Certified Natural calves and implanted calves sell for the same price. If you enrolled in a verified program such as the Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC) program, there was a $4-per-hundredweight premium paid for those calves in 2014. However, that premium is only about half of the net value that would be realized from using implants. Implanting calves is one of the surest ways to add $30-$40 per head in value.