Stress from work; stress from the weather; stress from meeting new people and all those youngsters being rowdy around you. This might sound like the scenario some teachers face as they go back to school in the fall, but I’m actually referring to what our young calves face around weaning. This process is not unlike a child going to school, either for the first time or returning for a new year of classes; many kids are uncomfortable in their new surroundings, facing the threat of getting sick from commingling with others or getting “worked over” with shots and settling into a new routine. The recent upsurge in COVID-19 cases among our youth demonstrates all too well how powerful close contact with a “carrier” individual can be in terms of spreading viral or bacterial pathogens.
One article, “Interactions between Temperament, Stress and Immune Function in Cattle” (International Journal of Zoology, 2011, N. C. Burdick,1 R. D. Randel,2 J. A. Carroll1 and T. H. Welsh ), defines stress as “a state in which homeostasis is threatened or perceived to be so; homeostasis is re-established by a complex repertoire of behavioral and physiological adaptive responses of the organism. They further explain that “stressors are any internal or external stimuli or threat (physical, psychological or chemical) that disrupts homeostasis.” We can recognize a number of external stressors that will disrupt the normal environment (i.e., homeostasis) for calves, leading to the internal changes that depress the immune system and open the door for health challenges.
It is well-documented, for example, that a single bought of pneumonia, BRD or another challenge to the respiratory system will likely reduce the animal’s growth and, ultimately, its ability to thrive. Weather and other adverse conditions — such as those we are currently seeing, with wildfires sending smoke and debris into the atmosphere, drought conditions making for excessively dusty conditions that impact immature lungs, and both extreme heat and cold — can have a huge effect on the well-being of calves. When these events occur at the same time that calves are being weaned, transported or commingled with unfamiliar groups of animals, the stress is compounded, and many disease “breaks” are likely to occur.
Let’s talk about nutritional changes for the weaned calf. Do you remember eating in a school cafeteria for the first time? The new surroundings and food can sometimes be stressful for children — and the same can be true for newly weaned calves. As such, it is recommended to acclimate calves to their “new” diet prior to weaning or to try to minimize any changes, which is more achievable when calves are weaned and stay on the same farm. However, we recognize that large numbers of calves are weaned as they are loaded on the truck, so a calf riding from my home state of Virginia to a feedlot in the Midwest is going to be shell-shocked when it arrives at its new facility.
My fellow blogger, Brayden Hawkins, once heard a Texas producer refer to “guys who are still weaning calves with diesel smoke and milk on their lips”! The stress of weaning will likely include a type of forage the calf has never tasted before (hopefully, fermented silage will not be introduced until the calf is fully acclimated to the new location); they may also be eating grain for the first time and drinking water that tastes different — all of which could lead to low intake, reduced or lost weight and added stress. Additionally, a study done at Texas A&M several years ago showed that the trace minerals copper and zinc (and, similarly, selenium), which are critical components of the immune system, are often nearly depleted in calves by the time weaning rolls around.
So, how can we minimize stress to decrease incidences of sickness in cattle? Just as parents try to get the high-stress but necessary events — such as going to the dentist and getting the mandatory shots — out of the way in advance of school starting, cattle producers should have a care plan in place that will take care of vaccinations, dehorning and castration several weeks (or months) prior to weaning. This preconditioning, which should include a high-quality nutritional program, will help get calves prepared to withstand the onslaught of stressors when the moment of weaning arrives.
CRYSTALYX® stress supplements can be part of the strategy to help stressed calves return to homeostasis, with the primary goals of maintaining calf health, minimizing scours and getting calves on full feed quickly after weaning. Ideally, a stress block like CRYSTALYX® Brigade® can begin to be fed in advance of weaning and continue through the transition period, allowing a recognized part of the calf’s diet to be kept in place. When this is not possible, offering Brigade or our newest stress block, Blueprint® Battalion®, upon the calves’ arrival to a new location will give them something highly palatable that includes readily absorbable, high-quality nutrients, such as chelated (organic) trace minerals, all-natural protein, electrolytes and high vitamin levels to help return their guts to normal. Additionally, a dehydrated calf is highly susceptible to disease challenges, so the combination of salt, molasses and the licking action of the tub will encourage the calf to rehydrate — which, in turn, encourages a higher intake of the primary diet. With water almost certain to taste different at a new location, anything driving water intake will be beneficial.
Both Brigade and Blueprint Battalion have proven to help prevent the profit-robbing effects of sick and weakened calves requiring high-input antibiotic treatments. The organic trace mineral package and high vitamin E levels these solutions offer help bolster the animals’ immune systems both before and after weaning. While Blueprint Battalion is nutritionally similar to Brigade, it also includes Bio-Mos® 2 for stronger gut health to help prepare calves for the dietary changes they will encounter. Also included is chromium, a trace mineral shown to help maintain the health of stressed calves. Thirdly, the Total Replacement Technology (TRT) included in Blueprint, in which all trace minerals are provided in a 100% organic or chelated form, has proven in university and commercial farm situations to positively influence several production parameters, including reduced pre-weaning mortality and improved weaning weight, breeding performance and colostrum quality. The key to any transition program is to get cattle on full feed quickly, so they can add pounds of gain rather than losing weight. Let Brigade or Blueprint Battalion help reduce the outside disruptors that lead to high stress to achieve your goals and, most importantly, improve your bottom line. With CRYSTALYX®, performance is served!