How To Handle Lightweights

When it comes to the beef business, nobody likes to be called a lightweight. That holds true for calves, too. Calves that come right off cows are a key area of focus and need special considerations. With steers going for $1500, a program that costs a bit more but saves just two animals becomes a good investment.
IMG_2579“We’ve worked hard over the past couple of years to get a good program for lighter weight calves,” says Curt Umble, Agri-Basics nutritionist in Landisville, PA. He is referring specifically to young, six-weight animals and even the bawlers who may never have been handled. The program is not aimed at yearlings.
When possible, it is best for a feeder to buy good, pre-conditioned calves that are weaned for 45 days. “Not 30 or 35,” Curt emphasizes. Many of these 45-day calves will be double-vaccinated, bunk-broke, and on feed. Weaned animals will go right to the feed bunk.
“Pre-conditioned animals do bring a premium,” says Moss Boone, Dublin, VA-based account manager with Ridley Block Operations.  He figures such an animal might be worth 5-8 cents more to a stocker, especially if it has been through a chute and knows how to eat.
“It’s good to get into a regular system…find out which protocols work,” says Adam Zurin, Agri-Basics nutritionist based in Manheim, PA.
Have a water tub available the first few days. “Some animals are only used to following mom and drinking from a pond or creek,” Curt notes. “They have to learn how to push down to get water. In the meantime, they must drink.”
Keeping calves on hay too long is wasting time, Umble says. Starting them on grain on Day Two gets the rumen functioning and gets them on feed faster.
If possible, find out what kind of feed program the steers were on and try to start them on something similar. “I’ve found if we can match their background ration they will do better,” Curt says. From there, he has a step-up program to take the steer through the first three weeks.
Boone and Umble agree that it is vital to get the rumen functioning quickly. The first 24 hours off the truck are crucial, Umble says. He wants the animal to see some good-quality hay and, again, a lot of water.
After that, he will feed 3-4 pounds of grain, including corn, in the ration. Corn helps rumen bugs thrive since they feed on starch. He recommends an additive like Prime Starter-C which has flavoring to boost intake and yeast, again to help rumen function. He will start them on 5-10 pounds of corn silage, as well. “Just enough to carry the grain,” he comments.
Boone recommends his company’s product, Brigade, to stimulate the steer’s licking action and help get the rumen going. It is especially important to “teach” a young animal how to feed from a bunk, he says, noting that getting animals on feed and performing well can cut medication costs by as much as half.
It might take a week for shipped animals to regain shrink. “If the animals are not sick, I prefer a non-medicated feed the first week,” Curt says. After the second or third week, he will add medication. Of course, sick animals are treated right away.
“Keep an eye out for sick ones,” Adam agrees. “Keep a good watch for respiratory problems.” He likes vaccination programs that start with a nasal treatment and come back seven days later with a regular vaccine.
Assuming all is well, by the third week the grain in the grain-and-silage program will be up to 7-8 pounds.
Some producers might question the slower adjustment and its effect on days-on-feed. Don’t worry if you see information about Western feedlots doing it differently. Typically, they sell animals at 1300 pounds whereas local markets favor 1400-1450. Umble has no problem spending three weeks to get the animals started right.
“I want to grow them, get them framed up. I don’t want to push them real hard,” Curt explains. “It’s not life-or-death if you don’t do three pounds. I want to build body frame. After three weeks, they are ready to roll.”
A week into the program, when the animals are eating well, he will add Safeguard dewormer.
Some steers already will have a Ralgro implant when they arrive on the farm. Otherwise, Umble will look at a strategic implant program a month after the animals arrive – just so they are not being stressed again soon after the truck ride.
These days, backgrounders and feeders are working together better. When the feeder has records on genetics plus early vaccination and feeding protocols data, death losses drop significantly. Many animals come to Lancaster County from Virginia or West Virginia. If they do not have a printout, ask some questions. Often, a backgrounder will have records on flesh condition, weight and medication. Having this information lets the feeder tailor a better program. Everyone wins.


Buy good, pre-conditioned calves that are weaned for 45 days.

It is vital to get the rumen functioning quickly.