Stocker Set Up

Simple Plan for Incoming Stockers Cuts Losses

Before that truckload of stockers pulls up, have a system in place to keep them healthy. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)

Over the years, Ken McMillan has seen a lot of stocker operations come and go. The Alabama veterinarian and cattleman developed a checklist producers can use as they bring in stocker calves.

McMillan, who writes The Progressive Farmer's "Ask the Vet" column, said the goal of his plan is simply to cut death losses, reduce the number of sick calves and ultimately boost profits.

He emphasizes this is a guide, and there is no cookie-cutter program that will fit every operation or even every load of calves. There are regional variabilities in incoming stocker protocols, and producers should always have a plan they've developed with their veterinarians that's tailored to their unique needs, the type of stockers they tend to buy and their buyers' criteria.


First things first: As soon as stocker calves unload, make sure they have access to clean water, shade, grass hay, minerals and a bulky, highly palatable feed. Place feed and water around the fences to encourage "fence walkers" to eat and drink.

Put a thin layer of palatable grass hay on top of starter feed in the bunks to help get them started eating. Many calves straight off the farm do not recognize water troughs. Running some water on the ground will usually help them start to drink.

When it's hot, take extra care the calves don't have to stand in line to drink. Be sure to have adequate or even an overcapacity of water available at multiple spots. Make sure shaded areas are available.


After stocker calves unload and settle, plan somewhere in the 12- to 48-hour window to address vaccinations and health care. The 48-hour mark may be better for the high-risk calves.

The basic protocol McMillan recommends includes:

-- a seven- or eight-way blackleg bacterin;

-- either a modified-live (MLV) IBR/BVD/PI-3/BRSV or an intranasal (IN) IBR/PI-3/BRSV with an MLV bovine virus diarrhea (BVD) vaccine;

-- an injectable dewormer (Dectomax, Ivomec or Cydectin) or a white dewormer (Safe-Guard, Synanthic or Valbazen);

-- a pour-on insecticide for flies and lice;

-- Most vaccines are 2 milliliters (ml) per dose. The 5 ml products tend to create more injection-site reaction. Some are labeled to be given subcutaneously (SQ), but others require intramuscular (IM) administration. All injections should be given in the neck and, unless instructed otherwise, should be given SQ.

In lightweight cattle (below 450 pounds), an IN vaccine, especially one that contains BRSV (bovine respiratory syncytial virus), may be the best choice.

BRSV is more common and more significant in these cattle, and they often respond better and more quickly to this route. Include a separate MLV BVD vaccine to cover the four primary viral contributors to respiratory disease.

All vaccines are not created the same. McMillan recommends producers rely on their veterinarians to help select the right ones for their operations. He uses and recommends the Zoetis line, but adds there are many good companies and vaccines to choose from. The key is to develop a relationship with a veterinarian and a company you know will stand behind their products.


In choosing a dewormer, McMillan always recommends brand name products.

Injectables have been proven superior, even to the brand name pour-ons, in killing worms. White dewormers (Safe-Guard/Panacur, Synanthic or Valbazen) may also be used but are best reserved when there is little problem with inhibited Ostertagia (roundworm). These should all be given by mouth as a drench or paste.

There is concern some worms are developing resistance to the macrocyclic lactone class, which includes Dectomax, Cydectin and Ivomec, so the white dewormers may prove superior in some cases. Most of the data behind this concern, however, relates to generic pour-on products.


High-risk calves may need more than the basics. Risk factors include lightweights (less than 450 pounds), sale barn origin, being heavily commingled, long hauls, truck weaning, multisales, long waits at collection points, castration of bull calves on arrival and weather extremes.

McMillan says in these cases, he considers metaphylactic (mass) antibiotic treatment at the initial working. Choices include Micotil, Draxxin, Excede, Nuflor, Zuprevo, Zactran or Tetradure 300. Several antibiotics are labeled for this type of use, but label directions and withdrawal times must be followed exactly. Each product will have different label indications and effectiveness against different bacterial components of the BRD complex.

A well-designed and documented antimicrobial treatment protocol should be in place and developed in consultation with your veterinarian. This protocol should be under continuous evaluation, revisiting it season to season and even truckload to truckload. McMillan stresses antibiotic use in food animals is a growing public concern. So keep good records, and know why you have selected a particular protocol.


His list of optional treatments some high-risk stockers will need or receive includes:

1. Dehorning/castration. Ideally, this should have been done on the home farm; if not, high-risk calves may fare better doing this on the second working. Some stocker operators, however, prefer to put all the risk up front.

2. Mannheimia haemolytica vaccine (formerly Pasteurella haemolytica) may be effective in reducing bacterial pneumonias, especially when the long-acting metaphylaxis antibiotics were used. Protection is developing as these drugs taper off.

3. At 14 days, high-risk calves, especially those given the intranasal vaccine, should be revaccinated. At this point, use an injectable IBR/BVD/PI-3/BRSV. If calves haven't been dehorned/castrated, do it now.

4. Unless you are on a hormone-free program, discuss with your veterinarian whether your cattle could benefit from a growth implant (Synovex, Revalor, Ralgro, etc.) Be sure if you choose to use an implant that it's the right one for the size/sex of the calves.


Veterinarian Ken McMillan offers these vaccination tips:

-- Handle vaccines with care. Keep vaccines and syringes in a cooler protected from the light until they are used.

-- Mix what you will use in an hour. Discard unused vaccine.

-- If you can, use a clean needle every time. If not, change needles every 20 to 25 calves, and discard a needle immediately if it has been bent, is dull or is obviously burred.

--Never clean syringes used for MLVs with soap or disinfectant.

-- Use SQ products where possible.

-- Give injections in the neck per BQA guidelines.

-- It takes 10 to 14 days to develop immunity after vaccination.

-- In the heat, calves should be worked early in the morning when they are cooler and less stressed. Some new data indicates the risk of revaccination may be greater than the benefits in the hotter months. Discuss with your veterinarian.

-- Intranasal combinations produce quick, local immunity in the nasal passages. Some research indicates they also produce interferon that protects against other disease-causing organisms.

-- Non-adjuvanted modified live viruses (MLVs) are less stressful to calves than adjuvanted MLVs or some killed vaccines. Adjuvants are added to vaccines to stimulate the immune system, but they may increase overall vaccine stress.

-- In McMillan's area, he doesn't recommend a Haemophilus vaccination except where the TEME (thromboembolic meningoencephalitis) form of this disease has been diagnosed or if buyers request it.

-- Keep working areas and holding pens clean. Dust can be stressful to calves, and dust from manure contains high levels of endotoxins and exotoxins from the normal bacteria found in manure. Some viruses can survive between workings in the ground or on fences, walls, alleyways and chutes.

-- Make sure facilities and chutes are "calf friendly." Too many are set up for cows or larger stock. This can allow calves to partially turn back and get stuck. Be on the lookout for rough edges on the chute that may cut a calf or injure a foot.

-- Rough handling is stressful to calves, contributes to disease episodes and vaccine failure and increases the stress when calves are brought back through for additional treatments or vaccinations. Avoid or eliminate hot shots.

-- When possible, purchase cattle in "gooseneck" lots. Smaller numbers can be purchased quicker, and calves get to the farm sooner, reducing stress and exposure. Larger lots, especially when attempting to purchase at a discount to market value, can take longer to put together.


Got your PIs and your IBRs, IBRs and MLVs confused? Here's a list of the more common shorthand you'll hear when it comes to cattle vaccines:

MLV: modified live vaccine

IM: intramuscular

IN: intranasal

SQ: subcutaneous IBR (infectious bovine rhinotracheitis)

BVD: bovine virus diarrhea

PI-3: parainfluenza-3 virus

BRSV: bovine respiratory syncytial virus

BRD: bovine respiratory disease complex, or "shipping fever"

Bacterin: the proper term for a "vaccine" that protects against bacterial disease