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Less cattle stress, more profit

September in the Southwest conjures up visions of fall — and some thoughts can turn to growing winter wheat pasture for stocker cattle grazing.

With cattle prices extremely strong and many months of unusually wet weather preceding this fall, surely running stocker cattle on wheat will be the case in Texas and Oklahoma for many.

If you do ship in some stocker cattle to run on wheat pasture, the less cattle are stressed, the greater your chances at some healthy cattle and, subsequently, greater profits from your venture.

Some may think it’s all a matter of how many miles cattle were transported, such as Florida or Mississippi stocker calves being shipped to Texas pastures. But distance is not the real picture.

Key Points

• Stocker cattle don’t have to be processed the moment a truck unloads them.

• Stress can compromise immune system for stocker calves and impact health.

• Supplemental minerals can have value for cattle but should not be excessive.

“Transit is not necessarily how far the cattle have traveled, but how long they are on the truck,” Ted McCollum III, professor and Texas AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Amarillo, told the 2010 Cattle Trails Stocker Conference at Wichita Falls, Texas.

Once the truck driver does arrive with the stockers, the cattle don’t necessarily have to be processed the moment they step off the truck. Give cattle time to settle down and adjust to their new environment before backgrounding them, the specialist emphasized. That will mean less stress on calves.

“Stress suppresses the immune system,” McCollum noted.

Health factors

Multitudes of things can impact the health of calves:

• comprised immune system

• marketing (sale barn)

• transportation

• environment

• commingling

• inadequate nutrition intake

• cattle flow (number of cattle worked at one time)

Bovine respiratory disease, or BRD, is a common ailment among calves. Its incubation time is seven to 10 days, and immune response takes several days after that. (One more reason cattle don’t have to be processed immediately off the truck.)

McCollum strongly recommends resting stocker cattle by delaying processing 12 to 72 hours after arrival. Also rehydrate with ample fresh and clean water.

Closely manage feed quantity and quality.

“Feed should provide energy and provide roughage to ‘refill’ cattle,” McCollum said.

Right minerals

David Lalman, associate professor and Extension beef cattle specialist, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, grew up on a diversified farm in southeast Kansas. In the 14 years he’s worked in Oklahoma, he’s witnessed several years with no wheat pasture or limited grazing.

Lalman said producers should focus on minerals with good nutrient value to supplement forage when needed. He noted that may be a mineral with 15% to 18% calcium, whereas 3% to 8% for phosphorus is plenty, plus very modest amounts of zinc, copper and manganese.

His work shows that in Oklahoma, mineral supplement at appropriate amounts will pay.

On supplemental feeding, Lalman said Oklahoma research has compared distillers grains vs. hay in the other side of a bunk. Results found a possible value in supplementing cattle on wheat pasture with distillers grains.

Nevertheless, he noted there’s substantial research that suggests not even bothering to feed cattle running on wheat pasture unless you are going to use an ionophore, like Bovatec or Rumensin.


reduce stress: Ted McCollum III, Texas AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Amarillo, says the less stocker cattle are stressed, the greater the chances for making a profit.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.