“We know with grass being a problem, calves are going to be short on energy,” says Larry Hollis, Kansas State University Extension DVM. “So the first thing is, what kind of body condition are they in coming in?” Hollis says feedyards don’t normally body condition score calves and that’s not what he’s suggesting. He is advocating, however, an analytical look at the calves on arrival.

“You’ve got to consider body condition,” he says. “If they’re short on energy, you must assume they’re short on protein, too. And where the drought has dried up the grass, they’re going to be short on vitamin A, which is necessary for respiratory tract and digestive tract health.”

What’s more, because the calves have been grazing shorter grass on drought-stressed pastures, they’re more likely to pick up worms. “When nutrition is marginal, management of internal parasites is that much more important,” Bonner says.

Drought Management Tip: Controlling Parasites Doubly Important In Time Of Drought

So, Hollis says, calves may very likely arrive in a condition where their nutritional background will control everything else you try to do. “There are a whole lot of things that have been compromised if they’ve run out of groceries and have been weaned and sold early.”

However, he says just because calves were weaned early isn’t necessarily a knock against them. “If they’re being sold because it was a smart management decision and done timely, they’re probably as good as any calves you could ever expect. It all depends on how far the rancher let them go past when he should have sold them. Those cattle are the ones you’ve got to worry about. Those cattle won’t respond as well to vaccinations,” Hollis says.

Bonner can testify. This summer, he bought some 350-400-lb. auction market calves that gave him fits with morbidity and had a high death loss. “We got in, during the same period that we got those auction calves, some cattle off ranches that were backgrounded, had a trace mineral package and were pre-immunized; and had zero death loss.”

Bonner says if you read a vaccine label, it says, “For use in normal, healthy cattle.” That’s an oxymoron for high-risk calves, he says, particularly so this year when you add nutritional stress on top of everything else. “Their ability to immediately respond to a vaccine may be questionable,” he says.

So you may have to vaccinate those hard-luck calves a second or even third time, Hollis says. “They may not have enough protein in their bodies. Antibodies are made of protein and they may not have enough protein in their system to even produce antibodies. So it’s going to take time at your place, on your ration, before the immune system has the building blocks to respond to the vaccine and build the antibodies.”