Preconditioners and Feeders
Both preconditioning and feeder operations have important roles in the successful maturation of a calf. Focusing on maximizing gains and minimizing losses along the way can be difficult. While factors such as weather, genetics, and weaning techniques are out of the hands of preconditioner and feeder operations, the feeding and handling regimens once those cattle are under their care are controllable.
It’s essential to be able to help each calf in either of these types of settings experience the lowest amount of stress possible. Stress is a common issue amongst stocker cattle and can lead to the development of scours and acidosis if not carefully managed.
Preconditioning operations can be one of the toughest areas of cattle production in the industry. The influx of cattle from new, unknown origins can make it difficult to guess what a particular animal’s needs will be once they arrive at the preconditioning facility. Despite the difficulties posed by the preconditioning process, this intermediate stage is highly successful in helping cattle transition from weaning to the feedlot.
A properly run operation will regularly check cattle for signs of stress caused by the recent weaning and transportation they’ve undergone. It will also help isolate them in a manner that makes processing (vaccinating, castrating, dehorning, tagging or branding) easier. At this time, they are also able to transition to eating from feed bunks and drinking from a common water source.
These young cattle can be prone to developing scours and acidosis due to stress from environmental, social and nutritional origins. This can be a costly problem and even result in the total loss of the calf in some cases. It is of paramount importance to get them eating and drinking as soon as possible to avoid these issues. Finding ways to encourage water consumption and neutralize the rumen’s pH will go a very long way toward helping prevent the development of scours and acidosis.
Much like cattle in a preconditioning program, calves that are part of a feeder operation need to have a low-stress environment to thrive. Stress can trigger cortisol, a hormone that can suppress the immune system (making vaccinations less likely to work optimally), suppress the appetite and ultimately lead to acidosis.
The goal of any feeder operation is to see as much gain as possible while a calf is in their lot. Every calorie a calf eats needs to count — calories add up to bigger profits come sale time. To ensure that cattle are utilizing their nutrient intake to the full extent they must have access to clean water and live in a low-stress environment. This ensures a rumen that is functioning at peak levels, meaning that the pH is the 6.5 – 7 range and the gut flora that supports rumination is plentiful and flourishing. This will allow for all of the feedstuffs that are ingested to be broken down and assimilated to the fullest extent.
Using a feeding regimen of CattlActive® Drench and CattlActive® RA can make a huge difference in the health and profitability of your operation.
Our Preconditioners and Feeder Supplement
Preconditioning is a cattle management program designed to prepare young calves to cope with the stress of weaning and transportation to a feedlot. During preconditioning, ranchers monitor the nutrition and implement a vaccination program for calves.
To help calves overcome stress after they reach the feedlot, we’ve designed CattlActive® — a special all-natural supplement for cattle and calves that helps balance the pH of the rumen while reducing the risk of scours in feeder operations. CattlActive® also encourages calves to eat more feed and drink more water, preventing dehydration.
As a preconditioner, you may face a number of challenges with disease prevention, especially the prevention of respiratory diseases, acidosis, coccidiosis and viral and bacterial scours. The following guidelines will help you reduce the occurrences of sickness and death these diseases can cause.
How to Handle Ruminal Acidosis
Ruminal acidosis occurs when a cow’s stomach produces acid at a faster rate than it’s utilizing it. Most increases in acid are caused by the breaking down of starch into various volatile fatty acids such as propionate, acetate and butyrate.
When these fatty acids are produced at a fast rate due to a concentration of grains or starch, they end up increasing acidity in the stomach and reducing pH in the rumen. A calve or cow with ruminal acidosis will have a low rumen pH (below 5.8).
Ruminal acidosis can cause:
- Damaged rumen lining
- Reduced absorption of nutrients
- Reduced fiber digestion
- A reduced contraction in the rumen
- A breakdown in the ruminal lining, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream
Acidosis can be categorized as either acute or sub-acute.
1. Acute Acidosis
Acute acidosis is a condition that occurs when the pH of the rumen reaches a very low level for a long time. Cows that consume a large amount of digestible starch — such as beets, potatoes and grains — or those that graze on cereal crops can easily have acute acidosis. As the starch in the rumen ferments, it keeps the pH low for an extended period of time and causes many of the beneficial microbes to die. Acute acidosis can easily lead to sickness and even death in cattle.
Symptoms of acute acidosis include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased respiration
- Low consumption of feed
- Reduced rumination
2. Sub-Acute Acidosis
Sub-acute acidosis occurs when there is a brief imbalance between the amount of acid produced in the rumen and the rate of absorption.
Symptoms of sub-acute acidosis include:
- Lower feed efficiency
- Reduced body condition score
- Weight loss
- Liver abscesses
- Grains appearing in manure
How CattlActive® Can Help
Both acute and sub-acute acidosis can be reduced during preconditioning by giving cattle acid neutralizers such as CattlActive®. Giving calves a dose of CattlActive® at stressful times will neutralize acid and help stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
These bacteria will improve feed digestion while reducing the effects of excess acid in the rumen. They also populate the wall of the rumen and prevent damage to the rumen’s delicate lining.
In addition to using this all-natural supplement for cattle, it is also helpful to:
- Increase fiber in the diet to promote saliva production, which can neutralize acid in the rumen
- Feed the calves consistently with dry matter
- Give cattle feed grains with a thick hull because they’ll take longer to digest
- Avoid feeding large quantities of quickly digested, highly processed grains
- Make the transition from milk or forage to grain feed longer to avoid a rapid increase in acid
What to Do If Cattle Have Coccidiosis
Coccidiosis is a disease caused by a parasite known as coccidia. This microscopic organism lives in the cells of a cow’s intestinal lining. The eggs of coccidia hatch inside the cattle, then are released through the manure.
After several days, the eggs develop sporozites, which can enter the cow again if the eggs are eaten while grazing. When sporozites invade the intestinal cells, they divide rapidly, then break down the cells and destroy them.
Symptoms of coccidiosis include:
- Diarrhea that varies in intensity from watery manure to feces that contains blood
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Dehydration and depression
- Poor growth and body condition
- Poor muscular coordination
Before treatment, it’s vital to consult a veterinarian who will conduct a microscopic examination of the affected calf’s or cow’s fecal matter.
Causes of Coccidiosis
Intestinal coccidiosis occurs mostly in calves that are between 6 and 12 months months of age. It’s common in feedlots or barns that have been polluted by manure from other infected cows or calves. Crowding calves into bunk spaces also aids the spread of this disease. During the winter, calves are more susceptible to the disease due to the stress imposed by the cold weather.
A few tips for preventing coccidiosis include:
- Keep Calves Clean: Ensure you keep young cows and other animals that are at risk dry and clean.
- Protect Feeding Equipment: Don’t allow manure to contaminate feeding or watering equipment.
- Place Feed Above the Ground: Refrain from feeding calves on the ground to minimize consumption of fecal matter.
- Keep Pens Dry: Drain excessive moisture in pens and provide dry bedding for calves.
How to Reduce the Risk of Scours in Feeder Operations
The best way to minimize the risk of calf scours or diarrhea in preconditioning operations is to reduce exposure to the disease and boost the calf’s immune system. Regardless of how well-kept the calf’s environment is, it could still come in contact with disease-causing pathogens.
A strong immune system is the most effective weapon for reducing the risk of scours. You can increase your calves’ immunity by:
- Ensuring Calves Receive Passive Immunity: Baby calves can only fight disease-causing organisms when they receive antibodies from the colostrum — or first milk — from the mother cow.
- Monitoring the Heifer’s Body Condition: The calving heifer needs a body condition score of six to be able to provide the necessary antibodies to prevent scours.
- Being Prepared at Birth: Prepare a colostrum substitute or frozen colostrum just in case the calf cannot nurse within the first six hours after birth, or if the calf had a difficult delivery.
- Administering Supplements: Give the calf and heifer a dose of a natural immune-boosting supplement, like CattlActive®.