Tips to reduce stress in calves

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

The key to successful marketing is providing what the buyer wants.
Adding value to calves can be of benefit to the calf producer and the feedlot operator, and much of the benefit is from reducing stress on the animals.
The calf producer is selling as much weight as possible. A well-adjusted calf has less shrink.
This same calf also will have fewer setbacks going on feed.
Plan ahead. It takes about 21 days for a calf to recover from a stress.
The biggest one is separation from mother at weaning time. Castrating, dehorning, and vaccinating are added stresses.
To reduce the impact on calves, some producers are completing these tasks and putting the calves back on the cows for at least three weeks.
Calves are over this period before being weaned.
They are vaccinated and, depending on the product used, some will require a booster. An initial vaccination should be four-six weeks before sale date, with a booster at least two weeks before the sale.
Calves comfortable with dry feed, and with drinking from a trough or water bowl while on the cow, will find feedlot adjustment much easier. This is best done before weaning.
After being separated from the cows, calves will eat and drink and experience much less disruption. Their immune system also will be better able to cope with challenges.
Put the herd in an area familiar to the calves before weaning, and take the cows from the calves. Research suggests if calves have fence line contact with their mothers during weaning, stress will be reduced.
Just as important is the handling of calves before and during loading. It should be done with as little disturbance as necessary.
Good handling facilities make the job easier for both livestock and handler.
Certainly calves handled in this way will have a smoother transition from mother to the feedlot—and with more pounds of calf on arrival.
The next two articles will look at weaning calves in more detail.