In a properly designed and executed receiving program newly arrived calves are segregated by the day or week of their arrival.
We have week-one calves, week-two calves, and week-three calves. After week three, we start co-mingling cattle that are completely healthy.
We hold painted calves (those which have been treated) separately on good grass traps and observe them closely for another 30-plus days.
All our cattle need to be full every time we see them. Quality, long recovery on clean, fresh grass surely helps eliminate relapses and chronics. Re-lapsed sick calves and chronics have a bad habit of dying.
Here's how we check new cattle, starting the morning of day two after arrival. I love Gordon Hazard’s method, so I’ll credit him for most of what we do on a daily basis. The changes that we have made are for the most part minute.
After processing the new calves, most of which are bawling, we put them in a well-fenced fresh pasture with multiple poly wires to allow limited access to only a small percentage of the grass. This pasture includes well-energized, large-gauge electric wire or wires, too. Normally, this is stocked initially at 20,000 pounds per acre. It needs a wing at the gate and easy access to the treatment area.
Fresh prairie-type summer or early fall warm-season (C4) hay is scattered in multiple locations a couple of feet off the fence at 1 to 2 pounds per 100 pounds of calves. One-half pound of starter feed per 100 pounds of calf weight is placed on the hay flakes. As the calves walk the fence, they find the hay and feed and try it out. In our area, new calves love salt, so we put an ounce or two extra in our feed. Fresh water in 140 gallon tanks is important to us.
First thing every morning, we position ourselves inside our old pickup in the pasture with the calves and stay out there for 15 to 45 minutes observing our new buddies to be. Stay in the truck. Do not disturb the calves. Observe what is happening. Have binoculars, paper and pen. Write down the back-tag numbers of calves with the following descriptions:
• Calf laid out flat
• Calf with head down, shaking head, or head tilted
• Calf that gets up and coughs
• Calf that is not picking aggressively or is just acting like he is picking
• Calf that gets hit by another calf
• Calf with a "J" in his tail
• Calf that fails to stretch really good when he gets up
• Calf with less fill than the others
• Calf with diarrhea
• Calf that is drooling or playing with his tongue
Also, a calf should not walk with head below his shoulder blades. When viewing a walking calf from the rear, you should see his head.
You are looking for calves that are just getting sick. This is the key to getting response to treatment. Hazard says any fool can find a sick calf. The goal is for you to spot him 24 to 48 hours earlier. Incidentally, women are often better than men at this. You must stay in the truck and do absolutely nothing to excite the cattle for 30 minutes. A little adrenalin can provide stimulation to the calf, producing a false look of wellness.
With fresh sale-barn cattle most of your pulls will be on days three, four and five if you skip the front-end antibiotics. With medication on the front end, there are usually reduced pulls and they tend to be later. We never medicate new calves with drugs that we plan to use for sick cattle treatment.
Producers that are experiencing poor response to treatment are usually late pulling sick calves. Good nutrition is paramount for successful calf starting and sick calf recovery. Pay someone who is experienced to come out and take a look at your hay and your starting ration. If he is too far away, then take an average bale and a bucket of feed to your vet or someone you trust to know about cattle nutrition.
Producers that are experiencing a lot of re-lapses are not usually treating long enough and not recovering for the several days or weeks that are necessary. Four days of treatment are generally considered minimal, but with some of the new drugs these do not have to be consecutive as long as you get a very positive initial response. A properly pulled and treated calf should be a much better-feeling and better-looking creature within 12 hours after treatment. If he is not, we go to a different antibiotic and protocol in 24 hours or less.
Almost every fall and usually several times annually I have a telephone conversation with a producer who is still pulling calves after 21 days, with some over 28 days. Usually they remark that treatment responses are "damned weak" and they are still "shining their chain." Most of the time, the vaccination program was good. The calves were excellent initially and for 14-plus days, and then several calves (up to 1/3) started fading away, followed by pneumonia pulls. Most cattle that get sick slowly are slow to be pulled and are slower to respond to therapy. With few exceptions, there is a nutritional energy deficiency.
Cattle remove the majority of the energy from a fresh grass pasture in 72 hours or less. High energy hay is a possible answer, but is seldom available. Increasing starter feed slowly to 1% of body weight can work, but you need to be careful. Twice-a-day feeding with new grass pasture at least every three days, and other daily monitoring and response can add a lot of black ink next fall.
We expect it to take five, six or seven good-doing steers to pay for a dead one this year.