As you prepare to market your calves and send them off to the feed lot for finishing, there are a few things you might want to add to your to-do list.

While it seems simple to just load up the calves and wave them off down the road, producers can get more money, keep more weight on the calves, and reduce stress for all parties involved by working in some pre-sale/pre-shipping training techniques and health treatments.

Feed Lot Training

Exposing your calves to as much environmental stimuli as possible, while still managing for low stress, can be a tricky balancing act – but it pays off. Once shipping day arrives, they are going to see, hear and smell a lot of new things; if you have been preparing them for this all throughout their lives, it will be a much smoother process than if they are just experiencing an environmental change. Handle your calves often – let them see you, move them often, and work them as early as you are able. Teaching calves to move past you without fear is another lesson that will benefit them in the feed lot, which Dawn Hnatow, livestock manager at Addison Ranch in Bowie, Texas, practices as often as possible.

“I’ll walk them into a pen, then open it up and let them out,” she said. “It gets to where they just don’t even care.”

Always use low stress handling methods when working your calves – avoid yelling and don’t utilize hot shots, prods or dogs, unless you have a properly trained stock dog that will be minimally invasive during handling.

Lynn Locatelli, a Nebraska veterinarian, emphasizes the importance of using the calves’ natural flight zones.

“The idea is to move close enough to the calves to generate a response – applying pressure, then back off – releasing pressure. By applying pressure, you determine the working zone, or distance from which you can work the calves. By repeatedly releasing pressure, you gain the calves’ trust. Once they no longer see you as a threat, they begin to work for you.”

Calves should also be “bunk broke” before they go – the more accustomed they are to eating out of feed bunks or bulk feeders, the easier it will be for them to find the feed and settle in at the lot.

“Hand feeding has advantages over a self-feeder as it forces the owner to walk out into the pen and that should gentle the calves,” Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, noted.

Pre-Feed Lot Vaccinating

While it might cost the producer, a bit more up front, market research has shown that calves vaccinated prior to selling and shipping bring a higher price than those that have not received health treatments. Calves that have received health treatments are also more likely to be healthy upon arrival at the feed lot, and stay that way.

Experts say the perceived health status of calves sold through auction markets significantly affects calf selling price. Healthy calves are the established base for assessment. Any perception that the calves were unhealthy resulted in the potential for a severe discount… The increase in selling price is a reflection of the real and perceived decrease in risk associated with these calves as they move onto subsequent stages of the beef production chain. Calves that have been weaned, administered health protocols, and exposed to feed result in decreased morbidity and increased performance in the feedlot and improved carcass quality grades.


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