POUND FOR POUND: Proper nutrition increase odds of profitability after weaning
Thousands of dollars are at stake in the days following weaning. Producers are shooting for pounds gained, but keep expensive antibiotics on hand with the hope they will stay unopened. Managing for proper nutrition and health can drastically improve the odds of making the first weeks following weaning profitable versus costly.
“The key to weaning calves successfully is keeping them healthy and getting them on feed fast,” said Elm Creek, Nebraska registered Charolais producer Kristian Rennert. “Any time we can remove needles from the equation, and take a prevention versus treatment position on health issues at weaning it will save us money and time while also improving the consumer perception of our industry.”
Rennert identified getting calves on a gaining plain of development as fast as possible while simultaneously preventing sickness as his primary objectives during the weaning period, and has taken several management steps based on his operation’s needs to ensure success year in and year out.
“I wean calves in a smaller sized pen, with easy access to water, fresh, clean, dry grass hay and a liquid Loomix supplement called Cellarat Ore-CPR. My cows are also on a liquid supplement year round, so the calves already know what it is, making it palatable and easy to use. Plus, it reduces stress in that their system does not have to adjust to a new vitamin and mineral program when they’re weaned. From a feeding standpoint, it gets those rumen bugs working and drives them to the feed bunks through creating appetite,” he said.
Rennert also creep feeds pellets just prior to weaning to begin familiarizing his calves with the ration he’ll feed, and has tried lick tubs in the past. He said pellets are a labor intensive feedstuff he would likely eliminate if he was a commercial producer, and that he found the lick tubs so hard he questioned if his calves were consuming enough to benefit.
According to Van Beek Beef cattle nutritionist Elias Bungenstab, identifying the goal of a weaning ration and feed supplement program as Rennert has done is a critical first step to success. The second step he listed was comparing costs to benefits to determine which supplement(s) and ration(s) should be tried.
“Sometimes a well-balanced supplement costs more, but produces a higher benefit. This may be the best option, but every supplement on the market has its advantages and disadvantages. The best choice will depend on the producer’s situation, including distance to the supplement provider and labor required to feed a supplement,” he said.
Bungenstab said the disadvantage to liquid supplements is the producer pays a high cost for water. But, their advantage is they are easy to feed and to control intake. Blocks and tubs are less labor-intensive and typically provide good intake control, although some have voiced concern over their hardness as Rennert experienced. Pellets or loose supplements are typically cheapest, but also the most labor intensive.
Jamestown, North Dakota rancher and feeder Brian Amundson said that for his operation, knowledge is necessary in setting weaned calves up for future success.
“Whether they’re sent to us straight off the cow, or backgrounded on the ranch, information on those cattle is key for us. We want to see a good, documented shot record system on them, and any kind of implant history. A lot of producers become concerned that giving us that information is going to show they forgot something – but that’s not the point. We don’t expect everyone to give the same vaccinations as we do, what we want is to have that information so we can set those calves up correctly for future success based on their history. We do work with cattle that weren’t preconditioned, but we won’t work with cattle that we can’t get any history on,” said Amundson.
Ideally, Amundson likes to see vaccinations at branding and again two to three weeks before weaning, as well as a good mineral program.
“I like to have a 7- way with Haemophilus somnus in-shot combo along with with a four- or five-way vaccination that includes IBR BVD PI3, and a pasteurella vaccine,” he said, adding that he prefers modified live vaccines if they are administered in a low-stress setting two to three weeks before weaning.
“We can then booster those calves as needed, or, if they’re high stress upon arrival hit them with a nasalgene vaccine to get the benefits of that shot into their system immediately,” he said.
In addition to boosters and filling in any gaps in a calf’s shot records, Amundson said the second component of success when putting calves in the feedlot is keeping them a little bit hungry.
“Typically with weaned calves we feed a ration consisting of long stemmed hay top dressed with a nutrient dense, palatable ration based on percent body weight. We’ve found that if we can keep them fairly hungry they all come back to the bunk at feeding time and we have lower incidents of sickness and mortality. Hungry cattle are healthy cattle because they eat.
“If you give them too much feed, some calves will do very well while others will come to the bunk sporadically – when that happens those individuals have a higher chance of sickness,” said Amundson.
Making sure each animal has enough space at the bunk to reach the feed is a component of backgrounding calves Bungenstab listed as a piece of the ration and supplement puzzle ranchers tend to overlook.
“Many producers forget about bunk space. The ability of the animal to gain access to the diet is as important as the ration itself. There are a variety of feeders out there, but the common thread is making sure there is enough space on them for the number of head being fed. This will provide necessary consumption and result in expected gains and reduced health issues,” he said.
Rennert agreed that managing all large and small components involved in a feeding and health program at weaning time is critical to all operations, regardless of when or how they market their calves.
“Health is among the key issues anytime in a calf’s life, and weaning can be a turning point, good or bad. If you can build immunity, have a good mineral and vitamin program in place, and keep them eating, calves just do better. Their immune system remains stronger, they respond to vaccines more effectively, and they add pounds faster. Any time there is a problem that sets cattle back it costs you money, pounds, and can ultimately affect things like quality grade in the end product,” he said.