Tips for Starting Cattle on Your Farm

Aug 17, 2020

Frank Morey
Countryside Feed Sales & Nutrition Professional
Starting cattle on feed is an important step in animal husbandry. Weaning calves puts the animal in a stressful situation, so the faster you can make them comfortable, the sooner you can get them to start eating and fall into their new routine. Here’s a look at some of things you can provide to help reduce the stress and anxiety of weaning.
Good clean water is one of the most important things to provide right away, because water drives feed intake. One of the first things calves will do when moved into their pen is walk the perimeter, so I recommend placing your tank along the fence line on the side of the pen opposite the entrance so they find it easily.
Most of the time, calves have been drinking from ponds or streams, so they probably won’t recognize your tank as a water source. That’s why I like to encourage producers to keep the tank running over so they can hear the water. And if your water source is chlorinated, fill the tank a day before calves are transferred into the pen to allow it to dissipate so they aren’t put-off by the taste.
A feed tub is like hard rock candy for cattle, and licking the tub activities their saliva and makes them want to eat. When you have shy cattle that are afraid of a bunk feeder, feed tubs are a good way to get something into their stomachs.
We recommend the Purina® Stress Tub, which contains a highly palatable molasses based supplement that entices cattle to taste. It provides Availa®4, zinc and other key nutrients needed for a fully functioning immune system so that cattle are fully prepared to recover from the stresses of weaning and transportation, respond to vaccination programs and start faster.
Providing cattle with feedstuff they’re already accustomed to will help ease them into eating traditional starter feeds. Whether it’s brome grass or prairie grass, be sure to leave hay in a specific spot in the pen so the animals learn where their food will be. Be careful with starting on silage, as cattle might turn up their noses at the fermented flavor at first. Instead, trickle that in over time.
It’s not a bad idea to use a hay ring, as it keeps cattle from trampling or soiling the hay. It also helps to significantly reduce waste if you like to supply enough hay to last multiple days. Just be sure to consider the diameter of your hay ring and how it relates to the number of cattle in the pen. If the ring is too big, they won’t be able to reach the whole bale. If it’s too small, the more aggressive animals will push out the more timid and consume most of the supply.
Depending on what’s most efficient for their operation in terms of labor, producers tend to wean their cattle either before or after harvest. If you wean during August, be sure to provide a shady area with good airflow so the animals can stay cool.
If weaning in October, the animals will be stressed by fluctuations in temperature between hot, sunny days and cold nights. To help mitigate this, have them feed during the cool evening hours and provide a warm place to sleep. And with fall tending to bring more rain, make sure pens drain well to avoid having standing water contaminated by urine and feces, which causes coccidiosis.
If you have specific questions about starting cattle on your farm, please call your local Countryside Feed nutritionist. We’re always happy to help. And if you’d like to learn about the starter feed we recommend for cattle, click here.

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