Those of us who raise cattle know full well that we're in the cattle business, the beef business and even the food business. But, do we realize we are in the service business?

Being in the service business means supplying the product our buyer desires. If selling feeder cattle, we want to supply high-quality, high health status cattle to the feedlot.

Increasingly, feedlots are demanding cattle with precise vaccination and weaning history. These feedlots know they can pay more for cattle that are more likely to stay healthy, grow more efficiently, produce more Choice carcasses and return more to the bottom line.

Meanwhile, from the cow/calf producer's perspective, we want the feedlots to be very profitable with our cattle so they will return to buy our cattle in following years.

A Little Extra Insurance

Because of the demand for these high health status cattle, more cow/calf producers are implementing “preweaning processing programs.” The purpose is to give cattle an initial respiratory disease vaccination before the stress of weaning.

Other immunizations can also be given at this time. The most important, however, are for the viruses that initiate the bovine respiratory disease (BRD) complex.

  • At two to four weeks preweaning, a combination IBR-BVD-PI3-BRSV product labeled for use on calves nursing pregnant cows should be administered to all calves. Be sure to follow beef quality assurance (BQA) guidelines, which means all injections are given in neck area — in front of the shoulder. The intranasal IBR-PI3 products also would fit nicely into a preweaning processing regimen.

  • If a 7- or 8-way clostridial product is needed, this is an excellent time to administer it. If your local, herd health veterinarian determines you need Haemophilus or Pasteurella hemolytica (now called Mannheimia hemolytica) in your program, this may be an opportune time to administer these products.

  • It's also an excellent time to introduce grain (3-5 lbs./head/day) for calves in a creep area. Health problems in the postweaning period may be related to problems adjusting to bunk feeding and problems in trace element nutrition. If you and your veterinarian identify a trace element deficiency in your calves, creep feeding may be a means to address this prior to weaning.

  • If cattle were not castrated or dehorned shortly after birth (ideal) or at pasture turnout, do it at this time. Waiting until weaning is a very poor choice.

  • If the calves will be sold within 80 days of preweaning processing and cattle are gaining more than 1 lb./day, implanting at this time is generally cost effective for cattle destined for the feedlot. But, if you're only giving one or two immunizations and don't want to individually catch each calf in a chute, you can delay this procedure until weaning.

  • If you're going to alley run the cattle, make sure you can safely hit the correct injection sites in the neck without risk of injury. Remember that the secret to good injection technique is good restraint.

  • Treating for internal and external parasites is nearly always cost-effective for calves coming off pasture. If using these products preweaning, you must be confident that reinfestation will not occur in the two- to four-week preweaning period. Consult your local herd health veterinarian for advice on various products. The more common practice is to delay parasite control for the day of weaning.

    What about processing at weaning? Records from feedout tests have shown that cattle receiving a modified-live virus (MLV) IBR-BVD vaccine at weaning have experienced lower incidence of BRD in the feedlot. While there is the possibility of confounding factors in these studies, the trends do support carefully considering the type of vaccine used at weaning. We suggest considering a product that contains MLV IBR-BVD at weaning.

Also, if not done at preweaning, cattle will need:

  • administration of a 7- or 8-way clostridial;

  • deworming;

  • lice/grub treatment; and

  • implanting (depends upon marketing plans) at weaning time.

Take time now to discuss a program of preweaning processing with your local herd health veterinarian. It will help you produce the high-quality, high health status cattle the feedlots want.

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is an assistant professor of beef production medicine at Iowa State University in Ames. W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a beef production medicine clinician at Purdue University in Lafayette, IN.

Table 1. Example preweaning processing protocol
Two to four weeks preweaning
• IBR-BVD-PI3-BRSV product for calves nursing pregnant cows
• 7- or 8-way Clostridial (if banding, be sure to include a tetanus toxoid)
• Intranasal IBR-PI3
Haemophilus somnus
Mannheimia (Pasteurella) hemolytica, Pasteurella multocida is also an option
• 5-way Leptospirosis
• Castration (if not done earlier)
• Dehorning (if not done earlier)
• Implant
• Internal and/or external parasite control