Tips to Improve the Success of Weaning Beef Calves

– Jeff Lehmkuhler, Associate Extension Professor, University of Kentucky

Fall is officially here and with it will bring the country sound of calves bawling as weaning occurs on beef cattle farms. This time of year can be busy with field crops, getting the last cutting of hay and other farm activities. Take some time to prepare for weaning of the beef calves to add value to the calf crop prior to marketing. Weaning preparation can reduce stress for you and the calves.

A Few Tips to Successful Weaning

1) Minimize Transitional Stress – have castration, dehorning, first round vaccines and other procedures done prior to weaning; minimize diet changes and wean on pasture if possible and/or provide the same grain mix if calves were creep fed; consider fenceline weaning if facilities allow; watch the weather forecast and avoid weaning when Continue reading

Thinking About Weaning and Preconditioning Calves to Add Value? Know the “Lingo”

– Dr. Michelle Arnold, UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

Traditionally, many KY beef producers with winter/spring born feeder calves market through Special Graded Feeder Calf Sales held in the fall. At these sales, feeder cattle are graded according to the USDA Feeder Cattle Grading Standards, are weighed and sorted into groups (load lots of 48,000-50,000 lbs) and are then sold. Buyers take advantage of these sales to buy larger groups of feeder cattle with similar traits. Most of these calves are weaned “on the truck” on the way to the sale, unvaccinated, and the bull calves are still bulls. With this marketing strategy, producers who work to improve genetics or have an effective herd health program do not earn premiums for their extra effort because calves are sold based on the average weight and grade of the group.

Preconditioning of feeder cattle has been recognized by industry experts as a way for cow-calf operators to add value to their annual calf crops. Most preconditioning programs specify two rounds of viral and Clostridial vaccinations, a Mannheimia haemolytica toxoid, deworming, castration of bull calves and healed, heifers guaranteed not pregnant, and a minimum of 45 days weaned. Some require producers to use one pharmaceutical company’s products. In addition, weaned calves are usually expected to know how to eat from a feed bunk and drink from a fountain or tank. Buyers prefer weaned calves that have been properly fed and vaccinated compared to similar non-vaccinated and non-weaned calves, which can translate to price premiums of $10 to $15 per cwt depending on the market that day. However, to capture this added value, this information must be Continue reading

Weaning – Improving Outcomes Through Decreasing Stress

– Katie VanValin, Assistant Extension Professor, University of Kentucky

The classic definition of stress according to Hans Selye is, “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. Dr. Selye was an endocrinologist by training and is largely regarded as the grandfather of the study of stress. By any definition though, I think it’s probably safe to say that 2020 has been a stressful year.

We saw cattle markets take a wild ride and grocery store shelves empty out of meat and toilet paper in response to COVID-19. That initial response to COVID-19 that saw bare shelves and low cattle prices is a great example of a stress response. Now here we are months later, and we’ve adapted to some of that initial stress. While things are certainly not normal, we know now that we will be able to go to the store and get the things we need, when we need them.

This scenario is not that different than how cattle respond and adapt to stress events. I would argue that the single most stressful period in a beef animals’ life is weaning. Up to this point that calf has relied on its dam for almost everything. Now its weaning time, and no matter what we do this is going to be a stressful period, we can’t control that. However, we can control how Continue reading

Transportation Shrink in Beef Cattle

Steve Boyles, OSU Beef Extension Specialist

A better understanding of factors affecting shrink should help buyers and sellers of cattle to arrive at a fair pencil shrink under specific marketing conditions.

Types of Shrink. There are two types of shrink.  One is excretory which is the loss of urine and feces.  When ambient temperatures are low (below freezing, urine and fecal output can comprise 30-35% of shrink.  When temperatures are hot, urine and fecal losses account for about 15-20% of shrink.  Much of this loss is replaced when cattle are again allowed to eat and drink.

The second type is loss is tissue loss.  It is the loss of fluid from the cells.  Tissue shrinkage occurs after holding cattle off feed and water. It also occurs when cattle are subjected to stresses such as hauling. It becomes more important than excretory shrink the longer the shipping time. Since it is actual loss of tissue weight, it is harder to Continue reading

How to Use a Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Effectively

– Dr. Michelle Arnold, UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

Unusual or unexplained sickness and death loss of farm animals is an unavoidable occurrence for all producers at some point. Whether it is one animal affected suddenly or multiple animals developing symptoms of disease in a short span of time, most producers want to find the cause, the best effective treatment and how to prevent reoccurrence. The local veterinarian is the best resource for this information and should be the first person contacted to examine any affected animals and determine an appropriate treatment. The earlier the veterinarian is contacted in the disease process, the better the chance of instituting an effective therapy. However, in cases of sudden death (found dead) or when disease is spreading or in cases where treatment appears ineffective, veterinarians often turn to a vet diagnostic laboratory for help confirming a diagnosis and assisting in development of a plan for treatment and control based on test results. The UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Lexington (Website: ) and the Breathitt Veterinary Center in Hopkinsville (Website: ) are both full service laboratories serving the veterinarians and producers across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Much useful information about an individual animal death and overall health issues in the herd can be gleaned by performing a necropsy (the animal equivalent of a human “autopsy”). During the necropsy, the pathologist will first look for abnormalities they can see with their eyes; this is called “gross necropsy” and often gives an initial indication of the cause of death. Samples are then taken from all the organ systems as well as Continue reading

Posted in Health

Assemble a Calf Crop Resilient to the Challenges of Disease

Justin Kieffer, DVM, Clinical Veterinarian, Assistant Professor, Office of the Attending Veterinarian and Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

Completing a number of management techniques and vaccine protocols prior to the stress of weaning, commingling and transport will help assemble a calf crop more resilient to disease challenges.

Now that calving is completed, the days are longer, and the grass is growing (hopefully), it is time to start preparing for the weaning and eventual sale or feedlot finishing of your calf crop and development of your replacement females. Once the cow calf pairs have been kicked out to pasture in the spring, there is a tendency to put off or ignore the steps needed not only to set the feedlot calf up for success, but also to lay the groundwork for proper health for your new heifers.

Management techniques such as castration and dehorning should take place as soon as possible. Waiting too long to remove the testicles, either by banding or cutting, increases the risk of bleeding and infection, and knocks the calf off feed for an extended period of time. The smaller the calf, the less attached they are to their testicles. Removal of horns, if present, can be done at birth or shortly thereafter using caustic dehorning paste on the horn buds. If scooping of the horns is the method you employ, make sure to do this before the horns reach 2 inches in length to avoid having an open sinus cavity in the head, which is prone to infection and fly-strike. In both of these techniques, pain control for these procedures is highly recommended and easy to perform. This is critical both from a welfare perspective, and the added bonus of keeping the calf on feed during the healing process.

Vaccinations are also a critical aspect of calf prep that are often misunderstood or under-utilized. As you may know, when a calf hits the ground they have no immune globulin proteins circulating in Continue reading

Asian Longhorned Tick; a new tick known to attack animals in large numbers!

Tim McDermott DVM, OSU Extension Educator, Franklin County (originally published in Farm and Dairy)

The Asian longhorned tick attacks wild and domestic animals and humans. Photo by Anna Pasternak, UK entomology graduate student.

My colleague Erika Lyon wrote a great article in the January 24th, 2019 All About Grazing column in Farm and Dairy (link) that discussed the invasive Asian longhorned Tick. I want to give an update on where that tick is now, where its new host range is located, and what potential disease problems to look out for.

The Asian longhorned tick is native to East Asia as well as Australia and New Zealand.  It had not previously been found in the United States prior to its discovery on a farm in New Jersey in the fall of 2017.  This tick is a major concern as it reproduces via parthenogenesis, which means that the female does not need a male in order to reproduce, she can start laying eggs, which are genetic clones, that can overwhelm the host in very large numbers. It has been found on humans, companion animals including cats, dogs and horses, livestock species including chickens, cattle, sheep and goats and multiple other mammals and birds including Continue reading

Posted in Health

Let’s Talk about Lepto!

– Dr. Michelle Arnold, UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

What is Leptospirosis or “Lepto”? Leptospirosis is a complicated bacterial disease commonly associated with abortions, stillbirths and drop in milk production in cattle. However, this bacterium also causes sickness and death in cattle, dogs, sheep and horses worldwide and is an important zoonotic disease affecting an estimated 1 million humans annually. Farmers and those working in meat processing facilities are at highest risk.

What causes leptospirosis? The disease is caused by a unique, highly coiled, Gram negative bacterium known as a “spirochete” belonging to the genus Leptospira. These “leptospires” are highly motile due to their spiral shape and, once inside a host animal, they enter the bloodstream and replicate in many different organs including the liver, kidney, spleen, reproductive tract, eyes and central nervous system. The immune system will produce antibodies that clear the organism from the blood and tissues except from the kidney. Leptospires take up residence primarily in the kidney and are excreted in the urine for months to even years after infection. Less frequently, leptospires persist in the male and female genital tract and mammary gland of females and may be excreted in semen, uterine discharges and milk.

How do cattle become infected with leptospires? Transmission of the organism is most often through direct contact with infected urine, placental fluids, semen or milk. However, transmission may also occur by Continue reading

Posted in Health

Beating the Heat – Tips for Dealing with Heat Stress

– Dr. Katie VanValin, Assistant Extension Professor, University of Kentucky

Heat stress is a problem that can affect cattle throughout the United States. However, in Kentucky and across the southeast cattle are at risk for experiencing more frequent and severe heat stress events than in other regions of the country. Heat stress occurs when cattle cannot dissipate or get rid of excess heat, and there are a multitude of factors that can impact how susceptible an individual animal is to heat stress. These factors include things such as breed, stage of production, age, and hair coat color which can make it difficult to predict an animal’s susceptibility to heat stress. Heat stress results in decreased growth and reproductive performance and in severe cases even death; thus, it is not a problem that should be overlooked.

Cattle can be particularly susceptible to heat stress compared to other species because they are unable to sweat effectively, which means they rely on respiration to try and dissipate heat. Thus, a common sign that cattle are experiencing heat stress is excessive panting and increased respiratory rate. Furthermore, the cattle GI tract features the rumen, a large fermentation vat. While the rumen is what allows cattle to take human inedible protein and convert it to human edible protein in the form of beef or milk, this process also generates heat that the animal must dissipate. It is thought that this might be partially responsible for the Continue reading