"Thirsty, hungry and tired." Those are the words veterinary consultant Bill Swafford uses to aptly describe newly weaned calves as they arrive at stocker operations. Swafford, who is a member of Huvepharma, Inc's Cattle Business Technical Services team, adds, "The typical calf received at a stocker operation has just been weaned, not yet castrated, been through auction barn(s), commingled and trucked at some distance, and often they have not been vaccinated."
This stressful journey can be a recipe for inducing shipping fever among calves. Swafford notes that shipping fever - also called Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) - accounts for the majority of sickness after calves arrive at a stocker facility, and says it is not uncommon for a southeast stocker producer to experience 20% to greater than 50% incidence of BRD among high-risk, non-vaccinated calves.
But a proactive approach can help prevent a disaster, while also capitalizing on the economic gains that running stockers on grass offers.
"Grass pastures provide cattlemen with lower cost of gain. For southeast stocker operations to take advantage of this opportunity, BRD vaccinations are critical to maintain calf health and maximize their gains on pasture," emphasizes Swafford.
He adds, "The use of a modified live vaccine (MLV) is a critical success factor for high-risk calves. This is because MLV vaccines stimulate both types of immunity - humoral and cell mediated. Thus, a more rapid onset of immunity is activated to control bovine respiratory disease (BRD) as compared to killed vaccines."
While Swafford acknowledges that other management steps including nutrition, internal and external parasite control, and castrations, are also important to successful stocker performance, he underscores that more than 85% of disease during the receiving period for stocker calves is attributed to shipping fever or BRD. Thus, he reiterates, "Vaccinations against the primary viral and bacterial pathogens is a critical component of arrival processing for overall calf health."
Because it can take 10 to 14 days for vaccine protection to take effect, Swafford shares that many stocker operations also apply metaphylaxis or mass medication with an antimicrobial to calves on arrival. To this Swafford reports, "Research has demonstrated that effective use of mass medication whether injectable, medicated feed in a starter ration, or both, will help reduce the number of BRD pulls and death loss. Furthermore, second pulls and treatment cost may be reduced overall as well."
All total, Swafford urges producers receiving shipped calves to consider taking a few extra processing steps to help ensure calves stay healthy so they can gain weight and grow. Immediately upon receiving, Swafford advises these steps should include providing calves access to fresh water, good hay, and considering administering a metaphylactic antimicrobial as an injectable or medicated feed within the starter ration. Additional best management practices may include castration of steers and administering a 5-way MLV vaccine to protect against BRD; other vaccines to protect against Mannheimia and/or clostridial diseases; a combination deworming product for internal parasite control; a product to prevent coccidiosis; and growth implants if it aligns with performance goals.