On the Blog

Combating calf weaning stress

As you read this, our calendars have just turned to autumn, hopefully bringing forth beautiful, clear, sunny days and crisp, cool nights. As with each year in the beef industry, we will see a large influx of spring-born calves in the marketplace — and the related challenge of keeping these calves healthy during the weaning transition period. As nutritionists, we make every effort to provide producers with nutritionally sound feed supplements that will minimize the stress involved during weaning transition, hoping to prevent the respiratory challenges that often affect calves at this time.

In the region of Virginia where I live, and in many areas of both the Southeast and the Southwest, the most recent drought monitor indicates large areas that are “abnormally dry.” Following a highly productive spring and early summer, the green is gone in many pastures, which may force some producers to wean a bit earlier than desired. Younger calves are likely to experience more health issues than older calves as they are taken from their mothers, exposed to a different diet, possibly introduced to grain for the first time and are often mixed with calves from other farms, who can introduce any number of new bacterial and viral organisms.

Dairy calves also face similar challenges but are generally much younger than beef calves at weaning. Adapting from a combination milk-and-grain diet to a diet of all grain requires a rapid acceleration of dry feed intake to avoid weight loss. As calves are moved from individual pens and put into mixed groups, the dual challenges of new diets and establishing a pecking order can be extremely stressful and commonly result in stalled growth rates. Maintaining steady weight gains post-weaning will result in better first-lactation performance compared to lost gains at this time.

Minimize the effects of stress with CRYSTALYX®

CRYSTALYX stress blocks are formulated to overcome these health and growth challenges by offering an extremely palatable, nutritionally dense package for calves. The two primary stress blocks — CRYSTALYX® Brigade® and Blueprint® Battalion® — contain highly available trace minerals, along with vitamin E to boost the immune response against invading bacterial and viral challenges. In addition, intake enhancers like molasses, vitamin B12 and yeast encourage rapid acclimation to the lick tub and dry feed and contain electrolytes that replace those lost when calves are transported for several hours without water. 

Blueprint Battalion is the most recent addition to the CRYSTALYX stress block lineup. It differs from Brigade in three important ways, including that 100% of the trace minerals copper, zinc, manganese and cobalt are provided in the organic form known as Bioplex®, similar to the form found naturally in plants. Another critical addition is the trace mineral chromium, which is proven to enhance diet digestibility and improve energy conversion at a time when adequate energy is lacking. Finally, an ingredient called Actigen®, a concentrated form of Bio-Mos®, is added for improved gut health, helping to reduce the negative impact created by pathogenic bacteria. 

One simple but huge benefit of stress tubs that is often not given enough credit is that they give calves something to lick. Since licking is such a natural tendency, when these blocks are strategically placed along the fence line, where calves will first travel in a new location, the highly palatable CRYSTALYX blocks become an immediate source of beneficial nutrients. In dairy barns, where calves are weaned and put into larger groups, there is often a tendency to suckle other calves. A stress tub offers another diversion for licking, potentially reducing future mastitis issues from bacteria introduced into the mammary gland through suckling.

The licking action has two additional benefits: the saliva produced contains natural buffers to help keep rumen pH at a desirable level to reduce acidosis, and it encourages water intake at a time when calves might be dehydrated. Since dehydrated calves also tend to be short on essential electrolytes (potassium, sodium and chloride), CRYSTALYX stress blocks include all three of these minerals, helping calves maintain the proper balance.

RELATED: Don't miss a lick: The benefits of saliva production during weaning

Why CRYSTALYX makes cents

While the current economics of the beef and dairy industry may be challenging, the economics of CRYSTALYX stress products are clear: they reduce the overall treatment costs produced by stressed cattle. Past research on farms has proven that stress blocks work by “filling the nutritional gaps” of calves who may not adapt to their new environment and diet as quickly as others in their cohort. During a series of trials performed at a Kentucky backgrounding operation a few years ago, the owner said the calves were receiving everything they needed in the starter feed. When CRYSTALYX Brigade was offered to the calves, however, their dry matter intakes, feed efficiency and calf gains all increased while feed and treatment costs decreased. Even after accounting for the cost of providing the supplement, the total cost of gains dropped by 1.5 to 4 cents per pound.

The addition of Actigen to Blueprint Battalion offers additional benefits to highly stressed calves, including maintaining gut health. In a recent feedlot trial with 900 calves in Alberta, Canada, Actigen-fed calves gained about 0.5 of a pound more daily, and mortality in the treatment group was significantly reduced.

So, as you proceed with your weaning this fall, consider the economic returns that may be gained by including a nutrient-dense CRYSTALYX stress supplement in your program. CRYSTALYX Brigade and CRYSTALYX Blueprint Battalion are proven to provide a high return on investment for the future herds of your farm, ranch or feedlot.