Starting calves right: Handle with care

September is the beginning of the traditional fall calf run. Over the course of the next three to four months the majority of the spring born calves will be weaned, moved through market channels, received at a feedlot, backgrounder or stocker operation, and perhaps started on feed. These practices can be stressful and stress can contribute to reduced immunity to all of the bacteria and viruses that these young animals might be potentially exposed to in the process.

Couple this with the fact that the numbers of beef calves are at historic lows and their economic values are at historic highs, and it is apparent that these calves should come with a "handle with care" sign.
Here are a few considerations to help reduce this stress and get your calf crop off to a good start this fall

The authors documented 12 technologies that will transform our economy between now and 2025. I've combined and summarized them into the following 6 that may impact the beef industry in the next decade or two:

1. Communicate with your veterinarian and nutritionist to make sure you have a game plan and are all on the same page. Economics may change the feeds you will use, and new vaccines and technologies may have been introduced.

2. Have the most stressful procedures like castration or dehorning, as well as appropriate vaccinations, completed while the calf is still on the cow. Consider a preconditioning program that includes pre-weaning for at least 30 days and introduction to dry feed.

3. Consider training on transportation BQA for those who transport the animals and learn more about low-stress handling. Contact Doug Bear at the Iowa Beef Industry Council for more information.

4. When receiving calves in the feedlot make sure that they are as comfortable as possible. This includes clean, fresh, accessible water; plenty of bunk space, control of dust and a dry comfortable place to rest. Also try to minimize exposure to other cattle as much as possible. This is the place for biosecurity protocols.

5. There are many feed options for receiving cattle and starting them on feed, including co-products. It may be advisable to avoid very high levels of sulfur though until after the step up period.

6. For additional resources on these or other topics, contact your regional Iowa State Extension Beef Specialist or go to the Iowa Beef Center website (

As someone wiser than myself told me many years ago, "A calf started right is half sold." I'm not sure of the math, but I get the point.

Considering tips for stockpiled grazing or extending this year's forage? There are still grazing meetings and pasture walks happening in the month of September. Our average cost estimates currently have grazing at around $.80 per day and winter feeding at $2.50. Of course lower feed costs may temper that somewhat but there is still no better way to reduce the cost of maintaining a beef cow than to extend the grazing season and let her harvest her own feed.

Source: Dan Loy, IBC Director


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