Fall Run: Feed & Nutrition

Published on Mon, 07/26/2021 - 8:42am

Fall Run: Feed & Nutrition.

 Article by Craig Belknap, MS, PAS – Diamond V Beef Business & Technical Manager and
 Zeb Gray, PhD, PAS – Diamond V Technical Feedlot Specialist

 It is that time of year when spring calves will be weaned, and new cattle will be entering stocker and feedlot operations. What you do in the next hours and days will have a tremendous impact on how well those calves perform while in your facilities. Getting them started on the right nutrition program will significantly impact both their health, and performance, directly impacting your profitability. Here’s how to help cattle make a smooth transition to their new environment:

1.) Try to minimize stress at arrival by creating an optimal environment and allowing cattle to rest prior to processing.

During the receiving period, cattle undergo a change in diet, environment, are hauled, commingled, have feed and water withheld, may  be vaccinated, and implanted among other things. All of this causes a disturbance in the rumen. The ultimate results of these stressors are:
• Severe disruption of the rumen bacterial balance

• Reduction of rumen bacterial populations to only 10-25% of normal

• Decrease in rumen fermentative ability by 85-90%

Cattle can also suffer significant weight loss, losing more than half a percent of body weight for every 100 miles of transport. Animals that lose more than seven percent of body weight are at a high stress level and at higher disease risk, which can also have a negative effect on rumen function. To reduce stress, avoid processing cattle immediately upon arrival. A good rule of thumb is to let calves rest one hour for each hour of time they spent on the truck, before they are run through a chute again for processing. Be sure to keep them comfortable in a pen that protects them from the elements, and is clean, dry, and well-bedded. Have a sufficient supply of fresh water available and located where it can be easily found. Do not start them on grain within the first 24 hours, and make long-stem grass hay and palatable feed readily available to get their rumen going again. Give cattle about a foot of bunk space per head. If bunk space is limited and you only want to feed at one time of day, providing a split feeding where a second round of new feed is delivered approximately two hours after the first works well. This gives time for more aggressive calves to eat first, while still giving more timid calves a chance at fresh feed. The easier you make the transition for young calves, the better they will grow and perform throughout their time in the feedlot.

It is better to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to animal stress. Depending on your animal handling techniques, people can add to stress or help prevent it. You can diminish stress by how you load cattle and unload them at the feedlot. Be sure to minimize yelling, running, and the use of electric prods. The good news is that practicing good stockmanship costs you nothing out of pocket.

A lot of yards will try to process within the first 24 hours. One of the goals at processing is to vaccinate the cattle, so their acquired immune system can mount an immune response to the vaccine, ultimately building antibodies that help to protect them from sickness. This is an effective strategy for most cattle. However, some research suggests producers might be better off with a delayed vaccination program if the animal’s immune system is not ready to mount an effective immune response to the vaccine. This delayed program entails waiting for around 14 days after arrival, as improved health and performance outcomes have been reported in high-risk stocker calves using this strategy. The obvious downside to this program is that there is a 14-day window right after arrival when cattle may have limited protection from a challenge. Nonetheless, if you have high-risk calves, you might want to consult with your veterinarian about this option.

2.) Get the rumen functioning and acclimated to new ration. Consider using a drench product that supports active rumen microbial growth and efficiency.

Getting cattle acclimated to a new ration is critical. Start them off on long-stem hay to get the rumen going again. The primary goal is to get cattle eating and to keep them healthy. You are not trying to maximize gain, but rather to ensure consistent intake of a nutrient-dense diet. Work with your nutritionist and take cattle up slowly. Depending on their history, background, and size, this will dictate how quickly you can take cattle onto feed. Some cattle must go slower, some can go faster, but ultimately, work with your nutritionist to decide. Keep in mind, it is important to hedge on the side of caution. Be sure to feed cattle twice a day and keep an eye out for those who are not coming up to the bunk to eat – they are the higher risk. In order to get rumen function moving in the right direction, start at processing by drenching calves with an immune health support product. Use a product designed to naturally balance rumen microbiota and optimize the rumen environment. An oral drench is usually a one-time deal and administered when cattle are processed that first day. Drenches are rapidly gaining in popularity, as they are easy to use, and relatively inexpensive, adding very little to processing costs.

There is incredible value in incorporating a drench. Not only can it provide a way for cattle to get vital nutrients that will help jumpstart rumen microbes and rumen activity, but it can also provide immune benefits to keep cattle in a higher state of health and drive cattle to the bunk, especially those who are more hesitant. This is where they will get their energy, protein, and other essential nutrients. In the end, a robust rumen function translates into healthier, better performing cattle.

3.) Create a ration that allows time for cattle to transition to a new diet and include ingredients that support immune function.

New arrivals may eat poorly for the first few days until they become accustomed to their new surroundings, their new pen mates, and a new ration. Abrupt changes in feed – such as introducing too much grain too quickly or putting cattle out into lush pastures – can disrupt rumen function. Work with a nutritionist to ensure you are providing a nutrient-dense diet that contains adequate energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals to overcome their low intake.

The condition of the ration is very important. Wet feeds and fermented feeds will help condition the ration to assist in minimizing the amount of sorting that cattle are able to do. A good rule of thumb is that the receiving diet should be between 55-65% dry matter. Feed good quality grass and a transition starter ration with products that stimulate rumen function and support active immunity. Including an immune support feed additive in the ration will help feed the microbes in the rumen and restore the microbial population. This can also help with the consistency of feed intake, optimal rumen, and overall health and rumen function. The drench and the immune support product are a one-two punch to the program. A drench is the original dose; then the immune ingredients keep the healthy rumen balanced and functioning for optimal intake and performance moving forward.

All incoming cattle will experience stress of some kind. This stress significantly compromises the microbial population in the rumen, as well as depresses rumen function. Steps that can be taken to lessen stress in newly received cattle, as well as to help them recuperate, will pay extra in terms of improved health and performance. By minimizing arrival stress, stimulating the microbial population in the rumen through a drench, and feeding a nutrient-dense diet containing immune support ingredients, a smoother transition can be made to get cattle started on the right track.