"Information and communication are the most valuable tools to use in overcoming the unique set of health and management issues presented by each group of calves on stocker operations," says Brad White, an associate professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "Farms should continually evaluate cattle receiving, initial processing, nutritional management and disease management programs."

That's how White summed up his advice for stocker operators and backgrounders attending the Mid-South Stocker Conference earlier this spring. Along the way, he shared a number of stocker-based cattle health tips and reminders:

"Groups of calves should be divided into risk classifications of high or low, based on the assessment of animals received and on (if available) historic performance of the animal type. The risk classification influences initial animal management, treatment protocols and labor allocation for the pen. An operation should evaluate current resources and match them to the purchase pattern to ensure proper animal management.

"A specific protocol for each risk classification should be generated for each operation, using the history of disease prevalence in the operation.

"The major difference between high and low risk protocols are the decisions regarding metaphylaxis, abortifacients and testing for BVD (bovine viral diarrhea). These choices should be made based on previous farm history and specific signalment of calf groups. The use of an appropriately selected prophylactic antibiotic has been shown to decrease morbidity and mortality attributable to pneumonia caused by a susceptible pathogen in weaned calves."

"To minimize the effect of adding cattle to an existing pen, try to limit the period of adding calves to three days or less. As cattle become clinically ill after arrival, they typically shed a higher number of pathogens; adding new cattle to pens can lengthen the time of peak disease pressure in the pen.

"Heat stress is a very real event which decreases an animal's ability to respond to vaccines or compensate for others stresses such as processing and disease challenges. Avoid working cattle when the temperature humidity index is 80 or higher. Cattle don't cool down immediately at the end of a hot day; it may take up to six hours for heat dissipation to occur. Thus, cattle worked at the end of the day or immediately after sunset may still incur a large amount of heat stress. During the hot times of the year, early morning is optimal for working cattle because of the time allowed for heat dissipation overnight.

"The quality of each procedure performed is more important than the speed at which it is performed. Improperly administered products do not prevent disease, thus the result may be getting the calf up again for treatment, which adds to the time spent on each calf in the long run. It's better to spend a few more seconds to perform injections correctly the first time than having large numbers of animals that need to be treated again.

"Rectal temperatures can provide a quick, general guide for assessment of pulling patterns. A good rule of thumb is 5-10% of the pulls with a rectal temperature of 104º F or less. If all of the pulls have a rectal temperature of 105º F or higher, then it's likely that there are more animals in the pen that need to be segregated and treated. If only a handful of animals pulled for treatment have a fever, we may have misdiagnosed illness in some of the animals and pulled too many.

"Low-stress handling, isolation, good husbandry and nutrition may be the best treatments sick calves receive. Increasing undue stress in the treatment process can increase the odds that an animal will return to the hospital; taking a few more minutes to perform treatment in a calm, efficient manner can save future expense and labor."