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Receiving your stocker or feedlot cattle with ease

September 13, 2021
Feedlot cattle

The receiving period can be a stressful time for cattle. Recently, during the Alltech ONE Ideas Conference, Dr. Carlo Sgoifo Rossi gave a presentation titled “Receiving With Ease: Minimizing Stress During the Adaptation Phase.” Dr. Sgoifo Rossi is currently an associate professor in the department of veterinary science and technology for food safety at the State University of Milan. Utilizing his perspective and knowledge of the European beef production system, Dr. Sgoifo Rossi shared some information about the various considerations related to stress and adaptation that producers should keep in mind when implementing feeding programs and management practices.

When cattle are undergoing a transition like weaning and receiving, they experience stressors, including:

  • Transportation
  • Interactions with other cattle
  • Interactions with humans
  • Changes in nutrition

These stressors can have a major impact on cattle and can lead to such issues as changes in their immunodeficiency, reduced rumen motility, altered nutrient absorption, increased nutrient requirements and an upsurge of mineral excretion by the kidneys.

Receiving stress can lead to BRD

Regarding immune function, one common but highly concerning issue is bovine respiratory disease (BRD), which can strongly affect the performance of cattle. As illustrated in Figure 1, cattle who arrive and are treated for BRD can exhibit a decrease in average daily gains. It is also important to understand that animals who experience BRD often produce meat with lower marbling and quality grades. Considering all of these factors, mitigating BRD is important not only for the animal’s quality of life but for the producer’s bottom line and the consumer’s satisfaction.

Appropriate sanitary conditions make a difference

While the health of newly arriving animals is impacted by their location of origin, it is also greatly affected by the sanitation and management of the receiving location. According to Dr. Sgoifo Rossi, “The type of vaccination, the type of antibiotics used (and) the type of anti-parasitic product can affect the sanitary conditions of our animals.” Dr. Sgoifo Rossi encouraged producers to approach sanitation with an understanding of their specific herd and facilities and posited that, for some beef production systems, the strategy of going “all-in and all-out with cleaning and disinfection” is the best approach.

Nutrition is critical in the cattle business

When talking about management, we must be sure to properly feed and rehydrate the cattle upon arrival. Ensuring that clean drinking water is readily available and being conscious of the arrival diet are both crucial. Feeding the arrival diets in small amounts multiple times a day is recommended, as this will reduce competition among the animals, giving each of them an opportunity to receive adequate amounts of protein and energy. Arriving cattle can sometimes be considered high risk, making this a critical period for helping them recover properly and get back to normal rumen functionality.

Studies have shown that the appropriate arrival diet should have a crude protein and dry matter composition of less than 13%.

“Several studies show that if we improve the crude protein level of adaptation diets or the energy level of adaptation diets, we increase not only the incidence of morbidity but also the severity of morbidity and, consequently, the risk of mortality,” Dr. Sgoifo Rossi said.

Additionally, with the arrival diet typically being richer in forage and higher in fiber, reducing the chop length of the fiber will also reduce the likelihood that animals will sort through the ration. This is important, because sorting can cause cattle to eat too much starch or protein, which can lead to fluctuations in the pH level.

Consider all of the nutritional needs of arriving cattle

Unsurprisingly, it is also important to consider the nutrients available in the arrival diet. Providing new-arrival animals with the proper nutrients will improve their immunity, digestibility, and energy and protein balances.

To recover rumen and immune system functionality in newly arrived cattle, it is important to consider diets that include the following:

  • High levels of digestible fiber
  • Yeast
  • Mannan oligosaccharides (MOS)
  • Slow-release nitrogen
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

As mentioned previously, the arrival period is so critical for getting cattle right. Vitamins, minerals and other supplements can help improve their feed and can be fundamental in helping these cattle adapt to their new home. In his presentation, Dr. Sgoifo Rossi mentioned that studies have shown that organic zinc and selenium, live yeast and mannan oligosaccharides can be huge players in the reduction of morbidity and mortality in these potentially high-risk cattle.

Too often, producers and nutritionists underestimate the importance of these ingredients, leading to negative results. Dr. Sgoifo Rossi shared a study completed in Italy that examined the mineral status and mineral plasma levels of cattle after arrival. This trial focused on the evaluation of various mineral levels in the blood immediately after arrival. As shown in Figure 2, 83% of new-arrival beef cattle were in a deficient or sub-deficient condition regarding their copper availability, and 30% displayed deficient or sub-deficient zinc availability and reserves.

Weather can be a stressor

Weather can play a significant role in cattle stress, and more thoughtful management practices should be implemented with the weather in mind. Spring, summer and fall are less of a concern when it comes to sanitation management, but winter is a critical period for sanitation. Producers often forget to consider the relationship between temperature and humidity during the winter and how it can lead to cold stress. This can create a potentially dangerous environment for cattle and can result in increased incidences and more severe cases of BVD. As shown in Figure 3, low-temperature, high-humidity environments can create a risk area where sanitation conditions are an issue, leading to a slower adaptation for arriving animals.

As previously mentioned, there are challenges leading up to and during the receiving period that can result in the highest risks of morbidity and mortality. Implementing the proper sanitation and vaccination protocols, providing sick animals with antibiotics, being proactive about their nutrition, and understanding which management practices to use based on the origin of your cattle, as well as their transportation details and the time of year, are all effective ways to mitigate any potential challenges associated with receiving cattle.


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