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Animal Health

Logan warns producers to watch stressed animals carefully after weaning

Written by Gayle Smith
As ranchers continue weaning the 2012 lamb and calf crops, health is still the key focus because of the conditions some of the animals were born into this year. The drought affected over 60 percent of the United States, and producers and feedlot operators are just starting to see the toll of how calves and lambs were affected.
    As animals from the drought-stricken areas funnel into the feedlots, many are reporting lighter lambs and calves as a result of a shortage of grass during key grazing months.
Variations this year
    “It is kind of a regional thing,” reported Jim Logan, Wyoming state veterinarian. “In some areas of Wyoming that received early moisture and the grass grew, weaning weights for calves and lambs were close to normal. In other areas, where the range grass didn’t develop, weaning weights were down.”
    Joe Thomas, who ranches near Meeteetse, shipped calves this year that were about 40 pounds lighter than normal. He blames the drought for this loss, but said after talking with feedlot operators many ranchers who produced calves in drought areas suffered the same fate.
    “As far as health, my calves were in excellent condition because of the protocol we followed at branding and for preconditioning,” Thomas explained.
    But because he was running out of grass, he made the decision to wean the calves  three weeks early and put them on a hay field to precondition them before they were shipped. Although he didn’t weigh them at weaning, Thomas thinks they gained five to 10 pounds during those three weeks.
    “A lot of people in this area were living on last year’s feed,” he said. “When they turned their pairs out on grass this spring, there was maybe only four to five inches of grass out there to sustain them all summer.”
    Looking at his own cows, Thomas said some have dropped a half to one body condition score, but he has quickly rectified that by putting them on an ungrazed hay field and supplied them with adequate salt and mineral.
    “It helped them pick up really quickly,” he explained. “They look pretty good now. I have noticed other ranchers in this area are also utilizing pastures and hay fields they haven’t grazed yet to feed their cows.”
Diversity in Wyoming
    “I can’t say there is one wide stroke that paints the conditions in the whole state,” Logan said of the overall condition of the cattle and sheep. “There is lots of diversity out there depending on which area you are talking about.”
    For calves that haven’t been weaned yet, Logan stressed the importance of a preconditioning program before they are weaned.
    “If you are going to hold on to them awhile, I would also vaccinate for respiratory diseases – especially BRSV and BRD,” he said.
    Logan also cautioned producers to be careful introducing new feed to calves, and do it slowly, so calves don’t develop overeating disorders.
    “If you plan to keep your calves, it is important to get them on a good plane of nutrition before the winter weather develops,” he said. “Calves that are thin at weaning will be more stressed and susceptible to disease and sickness,” he continued. “Getting them on good nutritional and vaccination programs is key.”
Managing calves
    With adequate water, shelter, and feed, Logan said calves should pick up and do well. However, careful monitoring for poor-doers is essential. Logan recommends checking calves that are on pasture or hayfields at least once a day. Calves in the feedlot are checked more often.
    “Look at their hair coat, their attitude, their physical appearance and their appetite,” he said. “If a calf is not going to feed, he won’t pick up weight. It takes time and quality feed to make the calves that were stressed at weaning show some improvement.”
    If ranchers have a poor-doer, he urged them to consult a veterinarian for an examination to make sure there isn’t an underlying problem, like parasites or a viral infection.
    “Ultimately, it is important to watch calves or lambs after weaning for signs of sickness or disease,” he explained. “The more quickly you see they are showing symptoms, the more likely that animal can be treated and will survive, and the less likely it will be to spread the disease by exposing other animals in the herd.”
    If an animal gets sick with a viral infection, Logan said there isn’t a good treatment available other than antibiotics for secondary infections. However, bacterial infections can be very acute, severe and can mean death for an animal if it isn’t caught early and treated, he said.
    “An example is Pasteurella pneumonia. I have seen calves and lambs standing at a bunk eating, and an hour later they’re dead. That is an example of how quickly the pathogens can infect an animal and kill it,” he explained.
    Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..