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Supplementing for calf weaning success

A quick look at the calendar reveals that Labor Day is just around the corner, and many spring-born calves — if they haven’t been already — are about to be weaned. We spend a lot of time discussing ways to reduce weaning stress, in addition to using a program to keep our calves nutritionally healthy — and, hopefully, gaining — through this period. John Maday recently published an article in Drovers regarding options involved in preconditioning that stated, “Research shows that a well-planned program of dietary supplementation could complement traditional preconditioning protocols, helping boost immunity, reducing the incidence of respiratory disease and enhancing performance.” 

An important study conducted by JC Branum at Texas A&M University in 1999 showed that liver stores of copper and zinc (the liver is a vital storage organ for trace minerals) declined significantly from birth through 236 days of age (graph 1).

Similarly, selenium also declines, as milk is a poor source of each of these important trace elements. With adequate copper, zinc and selenium levels all contributing to the immune status of a calf, it becomes critical to provide these in the diet, especially during times of stress, such as weaning.


Adapted from Branum, 1999.


Reduce the harmful effects of stress

CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements have a long history of providing dietary supplementation to facilitate weaning and/or receiving success. Calves that are under stress due to these conditions will have decreased feed intakes and elevated stress hormone levels — which will typically result in weight loss and depression of the immune system. Additionally, if vaccines are administered concurrently with elevated stress hormones, the success rate is likely to be low.

CRYSTALYX barrels — when offered before weaning to acclimate calves and continued post-weaning — will provide a highly palatable source of nutrition, with nutrients that enhance a well-designed program. Proper intake of protein, energy, vitamins and highly available trace minerals, such as copper, zinc and selenium, is instrumental to minimizing deleterious stress effects.

See success with CRYSTALYX

Three CRYSTALYX products, in particular, are recommended for weaning or receiving success: Beef-Lyx®, Brigade® and Battalion®. Each has a slightly different target group.

Beef-Lyx was the original CRYSTALYX stress block option and continues to be used in weaning calves kept at the same ranch or farm. An upgraded version called Brigade was introduced several years ago and has since been the “go-to” stress product, as we often see morbidity and mortality levels dramatically reduce in calves consuming this nutrient-dense formula.

Brigade contains organic Bioplex® copper, zinc, manganese and cobalt. These trace minerals are highly effective in providing the calf with several beneficial immune system components: added B-vitamins will stimulate appetites and high levels of vitamins A, D and E help complete this “stress package.” Use Brigade for calves exposed to moderate or high levels of stress, such as those introduced to a new pen.

Battalion was developed for the most intensely stressful situations, such as commingling and long- distance transport. This product is very similar to Brigade and includes a similar package of trace minerals and vitamins, but with two additional important features. Chromium is added to help regulate energy production at a time when energy intake may have declined. Brigade also contains Actigen®, a next-generation gut health additive and concentrated form of Bio-Mos®. Actigen improves gut health by encouraging beneficial microbes to populate the gut while disrupting the colonization of “bad bugs.”

Dr. Shelby Roberts, a post-doctoral fellow with Alltech, recently highlighted the benefits of Actigen in a webinar, citing ongoing research and the application of gut-health management in beef cattle. Roberts explained that MOS (mannan oligosaccharides or Bio-Mos/Actigen) can benefit calves, particularly during stressful weaning and receiving periods.

In an Alberta feedlot trial with 900 newly-weaned calves, researchers added Bio-Mos to the receiving ration for half of the calves, while using the other half as control subjects. Through the receiving period in that trial, the following occurred:

  • Daily gains for treated calves averaged 2.07 lbs., compared with 1.54 lbs. for control calves
  • Mortality rate was 0.44 percent in treated calves, versus 2.66 percent in control subjects
  • Treatment rate was 18 percent in treated calves, versus 49.4 percent in the control calves

As calves are weaned or preconditioned over the next few weeks, consider the benefits offered through a CRYSTALYX supplement program, as demonstrated through university and field research. Your local CRYSTALYX dealer can help you choose the right option to meet your herd’s specific needs.