Stocker calves can be a good investment and are a great source of converting available forage into protein. However, those producers who plan to run stockers need to be prepared with good health, nutrition and vaccination protocols in place before the first calf steps off the truck.
There are two critical time periods for the stocker calf when it comes to its health, nutrition and ultimately, performance. The first is the stress period or the first few days after the calves have arrived at their new destination. And, the second is the longer period of time when they have moved to grass and are grazing daily to get the most nutrients and grow before heading to the next production phase – the feedlot.
According to Kevin Glaubius, Director of Nutrition at BioZyme® Inc., it is vital to have a good working relationship established with your veterinarian in order to have nutrition and health plans in place.
“Whatever we can do that first week to improve that animal’s experience will result in less treatments, less pulls, a vaccination program that will be more effective and helping them build immunity will help them fight out sickness when they are out on grass, ensuring they stay healthy and therefore higher performing,” he said.
The distance traveled and the stress level of the calves when they arrive at their destination will determine if you should treat them immediately with vaccinations as they unload the trailer, or if you should allow them to rest and hydrate for 12 to 24 hours first. Regardless, you will want to welcome them to their receiving pen with a few essentials: fresh, clean water; long-stemmed hay in bunks low enough for young calves to reach into and eat out of; and several Vita Charge® Stress Tubs placed around the perimeter of the pen, which support digestive health, while promoting feed and water intake during times of stress. The Vita Charge Stress Tubs contain Amaferm® a precision-based prebiotic to combat stress resulting in increased intake and nutrient digestion. They also have MOS to trap bad bacteria limiting their ability to do harm, and organic Zinc, the antioxidant Vitamin E and B vitamins.
Regardless if you give your vaccinations on arrival or wait until the next day when the cattle have had time to rest from their travels, it is important to have a good vaccination program in place and work with your vet to know which shots to give. When you do give vaccinations and wormer, give each calf a dose of Vita Charge® Drench to jump start the digestive system during stress. Drench does not interfere with antibiotics. The Drench works with the Stress Tubs to help ensure the cattle are getting the most nutritional benefit from their feed, and that their digestive health stays in check.
“Stress tubs are designed to be a complement for those calves that aren’t coming to bunk every day. You might still have calves skipping meals 20 to 21 days in. Stress tubs help stimulate their intake so you can get them out to grass quicker,” Glaubius said.
The best way to get the calves accustomed to the bunk is to feed them long-stem hay from the bunk in their receiving pen the first few days. Glaubius suggests that like people, cattle are creatures of habit, and so he would go to the extra effort to put the hay in their bunk first and top it with a mixed ration, not silage, that has a strong and bitter smell and taste. Once the calves are trained to come to and eat from the bunk, they will start chewing their cud, which helps aid in digestion. Also, while they are at the bunk, it is simpler to check on their health, looking for alert ears, runny noses or butts or any calf that doesn’t readily go to the bunk at feeding time.
A good mineral program works hand-in-hand with a good health program and making sure your calves are off to a good start from the beginning is the most important cost-saving advice. Glaubius reminds backgrounders that the labor in treating one or two sick calves out on pasture is often more intensified and expensive than the treatment, so making sure everything is healthy before turning them out is important.
Once the calves are bunk-broke and signs of sickness are absent, usually two to three weeks, they are likely ready to go to grass, the second period of the stocker phase. Once they are on grass, it is important to still provide them continual, fresh water and a high-quality mineral like the VitaFerm® Gain Smart® mineral. Gain Smart is free-choice vitamin and mineral supplement designed to balance basic nutrient needs and contains Amaferm, research-proven to promote calf health and vigor and stimulate digestion and nutrient absorption of forage for optimum gain. You can also continue to use the Stress Tubs for an added insurance policy.
“A mineral program while calves are feeding in the bunk as well as out on grass will help meet their daily needs, while combining that with stress tubs will help with overall intake, digestion and absorption,” Glaubius said.
“You can have the best plan out there, and you can have disruptions. Adding some forage to their diet will help if a big snow comes and covers up grass,” Glaubius said.
Getting stockers turned out is a simple process if you plan ahead. Work with your veterinarian to have health and nutrition protocols in place. Be sure to have plenty of long-stemmed hay and fresh, clean water sources available upon receiving, and know how to treat for any sickness that does show up. Using a three-step approach like the VitaFerm® Gain Smart® Program will help your calves stay health, grow and perform.