QUEENSLAND veterinarian Lachy Strohfeldt wants beef lotfeeders to make water sexy.
And despite his ‘wet’ sense of humour, the animal health and medicine specialist and self-confessed ‘friend of weaned calves’ is serious.
At the Herefords Australia’s first breed forum at Hamilton last week, he outlined his requirements for effective yard weaning of beef weaners, which included good, clean trough water.
“And it has got to be clean and it has got to be sexy,” he said. “I want to make the water sexy; I want them to really enjoy it.”
He shared his observations of cattle reacting to a trough being cleaned.
“They love that, they really get around it. So the more we move it, the more we clean it, the more sexy it is.”
Dr Strohfeldt shared MLA Bovine Respiratory Disease research results from 2015 showing Herefords were two times more likely to get sick than Angus calves before day 50 in a feedlot.
“Simply with yard weaning, we can ameliorate a lot of this, but if we add some pre-vaccination into it we can get these cattle better prepared for some future BRD challenges.”
He showed a video of noisy weaners in a feedlot indicating they were stressed and probably locked up for the first time in their lives, looking for a way out and not thinking about eating or drinking. He said the two main factors to consider for cattle coming into a feedlot were immune status and stress level.
“When we have confinement anxiety plus poor handling, then we get poor performance and we get sickness. There is an element of psychological trauma in these cattle that we need to fix.”
He said confinement anxiety, relocation anxiety and a fear of humans could be reduced with a solid yard weaning program.
“And the end of the day we need to recognise that all stress adds up.”
He advised against trying to solve weaning stress by administering antibiotics, although pre-vaccinations can improve immune status for other conditions.
“When a management decision can change the level of stress I don’t think we need to pressure our antibiotics any more than we already are.”
Dr Strohfeldt distinguished between yard training and yard weaning and said the industry had not done a good job of setting a standard definition of yard weaning.
“So maybe as an industry we need to settle on a good definition – on something that actually works for all of us.”
He shared US data that showed that by handling young cattle differently and moving them, it alleviated their stress. He advocated imprinting good handling expectations on calves at an early age, starting at pregnancy testing.
“When an interaction is positive with an animal they remember it really, really well – it is positive they remember it for the next time.”
His guidelines for yard weaning included weaner-proof yards, good clean water in a trough system, allowing four square metres per head and daily feeding of good quality hay or silage.
Weaning should not be longer than seven days and could done in 2-3 days if done well, he said.
Human contact daily at 5-10 minute intervals with breaks is important for stress relief and to build trust, “because at the end of the day we are important to these cattle and we need to show them that.”
“Handling can minimise or multiply the stress, so be a minimiser, not a multiplier. Maybe you can be a multiplier and multiply the confidence, but remember this; that future behaviour is always determined with every handling, and when we do stuff that is negative, we get negatives.
“When we do things that are positive we get growth – extremely important.”