Feedlot calves: The right start

feedlot beef calf

The management and handling of new calves arriving at a feedlot has a huge influence on profitability. New calves need to be managed with care in order to overcome the challenges they face without any unnecessary stress or other difficulties. A feedlot starter programme specifically focuses on making the transition to intensive production as easy as possible in order to ensure optimal production.

The main aim during the initial stage is that the animals start eating as soon as possible. It is equally important that diseases are limited to a minimum (this, of course, applies to the total period spent in the feedlot). The number of sick animals in a feedlot has a substantial effect on its profitability as it can lead to a decrease in production, cumulative treatment cost, and even mortalities. The occurrence of sick animals is the highest during the first 21 to 28 days in the feedlot, and can be attributed to the stress the animals experienced before and after they arrived at the feedlot.

Handling new calves

Calf quality is of utmost importance in a feedlot setting. Good quality calves grow well, offer better resistance against diseases, and are more profitable in the end. Poor quality calves cannot be fed “right”.

Except for good quality animals, good management practices are essential from the start. This helps to prevent disease and enables animals to reach their effective production phase as soon as possible. Low-stress handling techniques should be used when working with new calves. Well-trained staff should work with the calves to limit their stress levels and to prevent any injuries.

The immune system of the calves is normally under pressure because of various factors, which can influence the success of the processing programme, so new animals should rest before they move to the processing programme. A good thumb rule is to let the animals rest one hour for every hour they have been transported.

The initial pen they are introduced to should be clean and dry, as well as free from any unwanted objects and mud. There should be comfortable areas where the animals can lie down and rest. Make sure there are not too many animals in the pen, and that there is enough clean, fresh water and good quality hay available.

Feedlot pens should be clean and dry, as well as free from any unwanted objects and mud. There should also be comfortable areas where the animals can lie down and rest.

First steps

New animals should be monitored often, and the following aspects should receive special attention:

  • Make sure that the new animals find the water troughs.
  • Provide enough clean, fresh water in the water troughs at all times, including enough drinking space and see to it that the water supply is efficient.
  • All animals should be able to have access to the feeding troughs and there should be enough feeding space for the animals.

Feed intake and condition

The feeding status and/or condition of a calf is directly linked to its health. If animals are in a poor condition or have possible shortages, it can impair their ability to establish an effective immune response against disease challenges. The new calves should start eating as soon as possible to enhance rumen fermentation and feed absorption.

Feed intake should be the main priority when receiving the new animals in the feedlot. They should take in all the necessary nutrients to ensure optimal health and production. Sufficient intake requires good feeding trough management. It involves the correct application of correct feed in the correct pen in the correct amount.

Good record-keeping, well-trained staff, and effective communication between the feedlot manager, herd veterinarian, and nutritionist will ensure a successful starter programme and a profitable feedlot.

Download the article in Afrikaans here, as published in the March 2022 issue of Veeplaas.

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