Reduce Stress in the Herd

Stress in Beef Calves Opens the Door to Disease

Start calves off with quality colostrum and well-timed vaccinations, and them put a priority on reducing stress factors wherever possible. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Anna Mazurek)

You can do the big things right, like make sure newborn calves get quality colostrum and well-timed vaccinations, but too much stress can undo a lot of that good. Stress in animals, just like in people, compromises the immune system.

Awareness is key to holding the line on stress, said Joe Gillespie, veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim. It's especially important this year for producers to be considerate of those stress factors that can set an animal up for the onset of disease--especially respiratory disease.

"How we manage livestock during their growth phase is really important," he shared in news from the company. "We must be diligent and proactive on all fronts in order to protect calves."

Protection can be as simple as shielding cattle from harsh weather conditions, and making sure they have plenty of bunk space. Avoid overcrowding, he said, as this not only causes stress but promotes the spread of disease.

Bed cattle frequently, especially in the winter, to provide added warmth and comfort from the ground which may contain pathogens. And when cattle are in an enclosure, be sure to provide proper ventilation to keep them from inhaling dust and harmful pathogens.

Always make sure cattle have clean water sources, and a properly balanced diet. Keep feed bunks and other heavy-use areas clean.

Minimize commingling of animals from multiple sources if possible. If this is part of your marketing program, make sure all calves are preconditioned. Part of that means implementing a deworming protocol for parasite protection.

Use low-stress handling techniques to ensure that when cattle are moved the process is smooth. That means avoiding loud noises, reducing the use of cattle prods, and removing visual distractions.

Lastly, Gillespie recommended always screening income calves for Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV), and to remove persistently infected calves from the herd.

Even with the best management practices in place, some stressful events such as shipping are unavoidable, he added. When animals are about to experience a stressful event, Gillespie said administering metaphylaxis, or a group antibiotic treatment, for those at-risk animals can help reduce morbidity and mortality on beef operations.

He advised producers talk to their herd veterinarians about the best approach when finding the right antibiotic to work with their specific class of cattle, and in the right situation.

"Typically, several factors should be evaluated, such as spectrum of activity, speed of action, and post-metaphylactic interval, or the length of time the antibiotic is at effective levels in the bloodstream before another dose is required. Because a number of different bacteria can be involved with respiratory disease, it's also important to choose a broad-spectrum antibiotic that reaches the lungs quickly."