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Keep stress at bay for healthier cattle

Stress is a natural part of life for both cattle and humans. Some stress is unavoidable, such as stress associated with calving or weaning. But other stresses can be lessened with careful management.

On a short term basis, stress isn’t a bad thing. Stress prepares an animal for a “fight or flight” response. Cortisol and epinephrine are released during a stress event. These hormones facilitate increased heart rate, mobilization of glucose for a quick burst of energy, decreased sensitivity to pain and the suppression of nonessential processes such as digestion.

However, on an extended basis this same stress response is detrimental. Prolonged elevated cortisol suppresses thyroid function and reduces digestive function thus interfering with growth. Chronic stress leaves animals highly vulnerable to infection. Cortisol weakens immune function by interfering with T-cell production and makes them less likely to recognize and react to foreign invaders. Additionally, histamine secretion is blocked preventing inflammation, further compromising immune function.

In a nutshell, it behooves us to limit stress in our cattle not only because it is humane, but also because stress negatively affects our bottom line through suppression of growth and immunity. While there are many other sources that can go into much greater detail on strategies for limiting cattle stress, below is a top 10 list of suggestions.

  1. First experiences with new things should be positive. Give young heifers and calves calm “practice” runs through handling facilities and chutes before any procedures are done.
  2. Keep animals calm while handling or transporting. The best way to do this for humans to keep calm. Avoid yelling, sudden moves, hitting and use of hot shots. While this might take a little more time on the front end, both you and the cattle will be calmer and less likely to become injured.
  3. Avoid handling, transporting, moving or processing cattle during times of high heat.
  4. Provide shade and adequate access to water during summer months, especially during times of high heat and humidity.
  5. During winter months, especially in cold climates, provide adequate wind breaks to reduce wind chill and provide dry areas, free of mud.
  6. Train calves to eat from bunks, tubs and/or mineral feeders and drink from troughs prior to weaning.
  7. Don’t add to the stress of weaning by castrating, dehorning or branding at the same time. Complete these tasks at least a month prior to weaning, or even earlier if practical.
  8. Move the cows instead of the calves at weaning and provide fenceline contact if at all possible.
  9. Establish and follow a herd health program.
  10. Nutritionally supplement cattle according to production needs, pasture conditions and environmental conditions.

Prior to and during expected times of stress we can nutritionally fortify our cattle to be better equipped to deal with the negative effects of stress. One of the easiest ways to do this is with CRYSTALYX® Brigade® supplements. CRYSTALYX® Brigade® is fortified with electrolytes, organic trace minerals and high levels of vitamins to help calves and stockers overcome nutritional stresses caused by lack of access to feed and decreased intake associated with weaning, grouping and shipping. CRYSTALYX® Brigade® also provides concentrated mineral and vitamin nutrition for the purpose of flushing cows and heifers as they enter into breeding.

Any animals off feed and water for any reason (transportation, illness, anxiety due to weaning, etc.) are likely to have electrolyte imbalances. The key electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium) are responsible for everything from muscle contractions to nerve impulse conduction to the acid/base balance of the blood. Cattle with deficiencies in these key electrolytes experience lethargy, decreased thirst and appetite and further weight loss. Highly palatable CRYSTALYX® Brigade® entices these animals that already don’t want to eat to get the electrolytes they need to bounce back.

As mentioned earlier, cattle experiencing stress are immunocompromised. Research has shown that cattle experiencing stress have increased requirements for copper, zinc and other key trace minerals utilized in the immune response. Providing adequate amounts of these essential building blocks allows cattle to better respond to both vaccinations and active disease outbreaks. Additionally, cows and heifers with adequate body stores of these key trace minerals have been shown to have better breeding success. CRYSTALYX® Brigade® provides 100% of NRC-recommended levels of trace minerals including copper, zinc and selenium. Also included are highly bioavailable, organic forms of copper, zinc, manganese and cobalt that are more efficiently utilized by the animal.  

Vitamins also play an important role for stressed cattle. Vitamin B12 is critical for metabolism. Animals deficient in B12 experience poor appetite and poor general condition. Normally, a healthy rumen produces all of the B vitamin B12 needed. However, during periods of stress where cattle are not eating and drinking as they would normally, the rumen microbial population can be thrown off. Because vitamin B12 is only manufactured by microbial action, cattle only receive it through healthy rumen activity, milk (calves) or supplementation. Cobalt is a crucial limiting nutrient in the production of B12 by rumen microbes, so the addition of organic cobalt in CRYSTALYX® Brigade® further enhances vitamin B12 nutrition in stressed cattle.

In summary, stressed cattle are more susceptible to disease and don’t perform up to their genetic potential. While some stress is inevitable, there are many ways in which we can manage cattle to reduce their overall stress. One of those ways is to provide extra nutrition during, and prior to, known stressful times. CRYSTALYX® Brigade® supplements provide this extra nutrition in a highly palatable form to entice cattle that already have reduced appetite to get the nutrients they need to bounce back quickly. To learn more visit www.crystalyx.com or call us at 800-727-2502.