In the late 70s and early 80s, Mike McClintock, agriculture specialist for Boone County, Ark., with the University of Arkansas Extension, was the assistant ranch manager at Louisiana State University. Part of McClintock’s duties as ranch manager was to demonstrate to an animal science class the concept of shrinkage in cattle. “We’d talk about shrinkage in the classroom, then we would go out and weigh 10 head of calves at random, and then I, or some of my hired men, would load those calves in a trailer and haul them around for three hours. After those three hours of haul time, in the fall Louisiana temperatures of I’d guess an 80-degree day or so, those calves would almost always have lost right at 6 percent of their body weight. That’s huge.”
McClintock’s test animals were gentle, halter-broken calves. He said it would make sense to assume that calves that had never been hauled before, and weren’t used to being handled, would suffer even worse shrinkage.
“Some of our Ozarks producers traditionally follow the method of weaning them, and taking them straight to the salebarn. There is no telling how much weight those calves are losing, how much shrink is occurring, being pulled off their mother. They don’t know how to eat; they don’t know how to find the water tanks, and that’s traumatic. It would not surprise me if their shrink was over 10 percent.”
When discussing the best procedures for getting a load of calves to the salebarn, McClintock stressed that a producer needs to look at the goals for their operation.
“There are such things as fence line weaning. We’ve proven at the University of Arkansas that fence line weaning is by far the best way to wean calves,” McClintock said. At the Batesville Experiment Station, in Batesville, Ark., under fence line weaning conditions, McClintock noted that while the calves bawl temporarily, the researchers immediately put the calves on high quality pasture and introduce them to foodstuffs. They are much less stressed, and come time for sale, they are hardier and better able to handle the transportation stress. “I would be willing to bet shrinkage is far less with fence line weaned calves than with calves pulled directly off their mothers and taken to the sale. If you can get those calves eating in a 40-day short wean process and keep them gaining through that process, that’s putting money in your pocket,” McClintock said.
The difference in a 3 to 4 percent shrink en route to the salebarn, and a 10 to 11 percent shrink is a lot of money, especially at $1.40/lb., McClintock reminded producers.
“We’re just talking about cattle here, but this would be the same thing for any type of livestock,” McClintock added.
McClintock said he believes the best plan for the day of sale is to get the calves to the salebarn so that they don’t have to stay in the pens very long. “The less time they’re in that climate before they go on the scales, is better.”
For producers working full-time jobs, McClintock suggested it might behoove them to schedule a few hours of vacation time, and time their calves’ arrival at the salebarn. “This could make huge dividends in pockets. Some producers have to take them the night before, they just have to, and I understand that. But shrink is taking $20 to $30 out of their pockets, per head.”
Another aspect of the hauling process is considering the trailer: You should look at both optimum occupancy and the conditions of the interior of the trailer.  “A lot of people, new producers especially, don’t consider this, but if you’ve got room for 10 calves and you try to put 14 in the trailer, that’s going to affect your shrink,” McClintock said.
McClintock warned another way to get a reduced price at the salebarn is when your animals are actually hurt en route to the barn. “You have to consider the floors of the trailers. Slippery trailer floors can cause foot issues. There should be some type of cleating – wire cattle panels nailed down, or raised boards – so the animals have some traction.” He noted if the calves are falling down and getting hurt in the trailer, then when a calf goes into the salebarn and he’s limping, buyers don’t know if it’s a permanent issues foot rot or if he simply fell in the trailer and he’s a little sore.
Drawing from McClintock, when a little time is taken to plan the path of your calves from weaning day to sale day, it can result in a big price difference for the producer. Effective weaning strategies, minimizing stress in the trailer and shortening time spent at the salebarn all add up to more money in the producer’s pocket.


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