Processing, vaccinating calves at branding
University of Nebraska
For many beef operations “brandings” will be coming up soon. I have been interested in observing this activity over the years and seeing the changes. After attending a “rope and drag” branding a while back I asked an 86 year old cowboy what he had seen change. I had assumed vaccination was not part of the brandings year ago but he informed me that they had used “3 and 5-way” black leg for as long as he could remember and knew that his dad had used it several years before his time. He said the syringes were much different and the location of the injection site had changed. He said in earlier years most used an open fire instead of propane to heat the irons. He commented it was good to use the open fire because they used old replaced wooden fence posts and it required to get enough fencing done to get enough fuel for the branding fire. He said in earlier years they often did not separate cows from calves in all cases – especially when they had no or limited corrals. He felt other procedures of the branding were similar to branding almost a century ago. It was an honor and privilege to be invited to this branding as of that time not everyone was welcome. Old fashioned brandings were not only a time to get the calves processed for the summer grass but also were a social event where everyone – neighbors and friends-got together to share and visit after a big meal which was after the work was done. It those times I don’t recall a check written for help as you would be helping others in return. In some communities this continues to be the tradition but unfortunately, in my opinion, this tradition has and is going by the wayside. To some it is progress as it reflects the change in ranching country where there are fewer family operations. Today many use calf tables, pay processing crews or at least some of the workers, work long days etc
As we prepare for spring processing calves, If not already done, sit down with your veterinarian to learn of the most recent vaccines and procedures that he feels is giving the best economical return. One area that has changed in recent years is giving modified live respiratory vaccine at branding. Research has shown that it can aid in summer respiratory problems but perhaps more significant is the initiation of the “memory” cells to give a better response to the second injection at preconditioning or weaning. Again, visit with your veterinarian as giving modify live vaccine can pose a concern when given to claves nursing pregnant cows. No matter of the vaccination program outlined it is of little value unless the vaccine is handled and administered properly. It pains me to go to a branding and see the syringes laid out on a table or pickup tailgate all in neat order fully exposed to sun and heat. Recently mixed modified live vaccines are very sensitive to sunlight. I prefer to have an old cooler with holes cut it the top the size of the syringes barrel to place the syringes in when not in use. Place a few cold packs in the cooler so the vaccine is not only in the dark but it is kept cool also. One rewarding area is to see that the location of the place of vaccination and mode of vaccination has changed. Most everyone now administers in front of the shoulder and whenever possible inject subcutaneous as suggested for Beef Quality Assurances. Also it is recommended to record serial number of vaccine given.
Methods of castration has been discussed for many years and often the method preferred comes from a line of tradition. The most important thing is to get it done at a young age – before 3 months of age. If castrated early the methods and procedures used seem to be similar in stress and effectness. Yet, the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) found that only 75 percent of the calves are castrated before marketing and of those only 75 percent were castrated before 3 months of age. Admittedly, there are some parts of the country where the calves are barely seen before gathering so castration early is the farthest thing from their mind. Recent photos of cattle in the Nevada desert may be an example. Discussions are held on surgical versus banding and research data varies as the “best and lowest stress.” Basically if done at early age banding seems to be slightly less stressful as measured by cortisol levels however if castrated later – at weaning or later – then initially cortisol levels are higher when castrated surgically however the cortisol levels in the banded calves peak later and some evidence shows the banded calves have some pain up to 4-5 weeks after castration. Gains of the late castrated calves comparing the two methods vary but tend to favor the knife cut cattle 30-60 days later. It is recommended to give a vaccination for tetanus before or at least when banding cattle. There seems to be more of a trend to band calves when tagging which is fine however it is a little to early to implant growth hormones. It is interesting to me that only 20 percent of the calves going to market are implanted, according to NAHMS, and yet these calves are 20 pounds heavier than nonimplanted mates. Unless in a so-called “all natural” program implanting at branding will give a good return on your investment in implants.
If knife castrating some slit the side of the scrotum while others cut off the bottom of the scrotum. I could not find any research comparing the two methods but most say it is simply preference. The important thing is to make either incision large enough to allow good drainage. If cutting off the bottom of the scrotum most recommend removing the bottom one-third. I have seen one situation where a small portion of the bottom of the scrotum was removed and 20-30 percent of the calves became severely swollen and several died due to infection. In young calves several pull the testicles without cutting the cord but I prefer to rasp off the cord as high as I can to the body. For larger calves I use the emasculator with the crimper to sever the cord to reduce bleeding. As fly season approaches I use a fly spray around the scrotum. In horned cattle the horns should be removed as early as possible – branding at the latest. Branding damages less valuable hide if placed on the hip and then preferably low on the leg or high on the hip. Yes, I know “ ….. when they pay me for it I will change.” Sometimes it is OK to do something that is good for the industry. I heard a person say it is OK to brand but I don’t need it so severe I can read it on both sides. Cortisol levels indicate that branding creates more stress than castration so maybe the smaller the burn the better.
It is important to use as good of cattle handling procedures as possible. All of the procedures are painful and yet cattlemen realize they are a necessity for good cattle management however others only want to deal with the pain inflicted. In several European countries it is currently illegal to castrate or dehorn without employing drugs to lower pain. Animal care committees at many universities are requiring the same for late castration and dehorning. Let’s keep our best foot forward to ward off similar efforts to require this in our cattle operations – at least to a practical level. There are some current drugs that we know can lower pain – cortisol levels – if administered when the procedures are done but they are not currently labeled for pain relief.
Pray for rain and lots of green grass.