Slow and steady saves time
When cattle arrive, the focus is on gentle care and giving calves a chance to get their feet back under them. They rest for at least 12 hours, and have access to fresh water and quality coastal bermudagrass hay.
“Stressed calves have to get rehydrated and have something quality in their gut to stimulate the bugs in their rumen,” Horner says. “Without those things, your processing program doesn’t matter.”
Water troughs are religiously cleaned every other day, and every set of calves starts their time there with clean troughs.
“If we have dirty water and bunks, we can’t manage the cattle to their potential – no way,” Horner says.
After processing, calves – always maintained in the same load-lot group – go to smaller traps. There they receive 2-3 lbs. of hay/day for seven days, along with a starter ration.
“They’ll get bunk-broke to a hay wagon faster than a feed wagon,” Horner says. “They’re craving hay and we give it to them. Plus, hay is expanding the rumen.”
If you want to work for Horner, leave your hotshot at home. Besides basic animal care, Horner explains, “it’s all economics. If you use a hotshot, you have to worry about placement of injections and bruising; and it will take twice as long to get them settled down and started on feed.”
After seven days, cattle go to larger traps where they each have a minimum of 2 ft. of bunk space. “Even with a tight set of calves weight-wise, certain calves will be more aggressive than others. We don’t want them having to compete for bunk space,” Horner says.
Though he understands the temptation of overfilling a pen, that minimum bunk space and its effect on cattle health and performance is why Horner won't exceed his facility's capacity. “I’m not going to sacrifice the performance of someone else’s calves by bringing in more cattle than we can handle with peak performance,” he says.
Facts beat guesswork
Processing is performed 12-24 hours after arrival and includes metaphylactic treatment with Micotil®, a product Horner started using in 1993.
“My whole deal is to stay ahead of the cattle (health),” Horner says. “If you ever chase cattle, you’re in a wreck and you can’t pull enough cattle to get ahead.”
“Micotil gives every head an even start. It does a good job of getting every head on page one together. And the three-day duration gives me a chance to get everything bunk-broke and on feed.”
Horner says he doesn’t want a longer duration in his metaphylactic treatment. If they calves look like they need to be treated at the end of three days, that’s what he’s going to do.
“Micotil revolutionized the way we doctor cattle; it was the first low-dose, multi-day antibiotic,” Horner says. “If I can save $5/head on health costs, even if I have to pull 30-40% in the fall, I'm money ahead.”
It also addresses his ongoing challenge of labor. “You can’t teach someone to care,” Horner says. He’s blessed with a dependable crew, as well as a family that he counts on – his wife Tish, and daughters Harley and Shelby.
Incidentally, Horner has found his best employees among those with no prior experience reading bunks and doctoring cattle. Since these recruits have no prejudices, it's easier to teach them what to do and, more importantly, why to do it, he says.
Keep in mind that Horner uses scales to weigh cattle and custom-dose Micotil (according to label directions), as well as all other products used at Haskell Feeders.
“The main reason I went to a custom dose is that if you order steers weighing 425 lbs., cattle in the pen will range from 350-475 lbs,” Horner says. “When you dose on the average, you’re spending too much on the lighter cattle and doing an inferior job on the heavier ones.”
Of course, matching the dose to individual cattle weight saves money on the product and enhances product efficiency, but Horner says that’s really the icing on the cake. For him, most of the goodie comes with being able to more accurately evaluate the worth of products and his own management.
“If you run 300 calves, you've more than covered the cost of the scale,” Horner says.
Though Horner says there's no substitute for a scale and custom dosing, he recognizes that the flexible dose rate for Micotil means folks using metaphylaxis based on average weights have more opportunity to get the coverage needed for the entire pen.