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Maximize Growth Of Young Calves

Getting the most growth out of their calves will help livestock producers maximize returns from their beef operations. A few minor changes in management strategies, with minimum input cost, will yield bigger healthier calves come fall. Sure, there is always the argument the heavier calves will earn less per pound (this differential is getting less and less), but the bottom line is the bigger calves will bring more dollars come fall. If you background or finish your own animals they will need less time and feed to reach their desired weight.

Two procedures, implanting young calves (three products are available) and deworming calves at turnout, have been proven numerous times to result in increased weight gain. Both return about a 20:1 return per dollar invested. This figure has really increased as the cost of the endectocides has come down over the last few years. We should now be using these products more than ever. Even if none or a very low level of internal parasites is detected, 10 or more pounds of gain can be expected over the summer.

A single implant will yield in the range of 20 plus pounds of gain. Implanting is very safe, and as I have mentioned in other articles, there are hundreds of times more estrogens (hormones) in every day foods such as eggs, cabbage or alfalfa sprouts compared to a pound of implanted beef. Implanted beef is perfectly safe so we can consume it with confidence.

Implanting is easy to do, but does take a little practice to become fast. Proper restraint on the young calves is best achieved with a good calf table. If roping calves, the old cowboy way, the head can still be restrained by hand to facilitate implanting. The implanting guns have only a nominal cost and last a long time if looked after. Make sure to disinfect needles between uses by running them through a disinfectant or placing on a disinfectant-soaked sponge. The middle of the ear is the ideal location. So if tagging on one ear implant on the other. Steers should be done at castration time, as gains will approach those of an intact bull. Avoid implanting heifers kept as known replacements, but if their breeding future is uncertain they can still be implanted once before four months of age and it won’t affect breeding function.

The three implants approved for calves are Ralgro, Component C and Synovex C. Get into the habit whenever you are processing to ask yourself ‘is it also time to implant?’ Every three months to 100 days is when implanting should commonly be repeated, and remember feed efficiency as well as improved gains are the result.

Using a pour-on or injectable endectocide at turnout is another procedure proven to increase weight gains on calves. Again, achieving a 10 to 20 pound gain from a single treatment is a very good return. By taking the worm and lice load down to near zero early in the year, buildup will be minimal over the summer, maximizing growth. The only exception to this is lungworms, which are acquired at pasture. In areas where lungworm is a concern, deworming July first or so may be necessary. Make sure the cows are going out to pasture relatively parasite-free. In our area lice may buildup after a fall treatment and the cows may need to be treated at turnout to prevent passing these parasites onto the calves. The pour-on endectocides such as Dectomax or Ivomec provide some control on face and horn flies for about a month, which is an added benefit. To get the maximum benefit from these products, the later in the spring — as close to turnout — they are applied, the better. These products have come down in price considerably over the last few years so the economic benefit keeps increasing.

Irritation from horn and face flies can be phenomenal and lead to gadding, eye problems, disrupted grazing and sucking, all of which affect weight gain. Insecticide ear tags (one per cow/calf pair) will last three months and a pour-on product called Cy-lence lasts two months and cost is proportional to their respective durations. Our local grazing reserve puts on Cy-lence right when the cows and calves are walking down the runway into the pasture. That way you get maximum effectiveness when flies are a problem. Both these products do provide some relief from mosquitoes as well.

All the above procedures should help with weight gains and decrease eye problems, too. If calves are healthier and not parasite riddled their immune system is healthier so other diseases such as pneumonia and scours is less prevalent. To insure good immunity, have your veterinarian recommend whatever vaccines will be helpful at spring turnout rather than waiting ‘til fall. Producers have always given blackleg shots before turnout and more are now treating for IBR BVD and BRSV in spring as well. This may help prevent summer pneumonias and give fewer problems at weaning since preimmunization has already happened.

Please consider all or some of these management procedures this spring. You will be rewarded by heavier and healthier calves this fall. Talk to your veterinarian to determine which specific products he/she recommends. My hope is you wean the heaviest calves ever.

Roy Lewis is a practicing veterinarian with Westlock Veterinary Centre, north of Edmonton, AB.

About the author

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Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.

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