Induction of bought weaner cattle

29 February 2016

You have been to the weaner sales and brought home some top quality weaner cattle. Good induction of calves on arrival at your farm ensures that the animals will resume the all-important growth and development pathway to the target weight and frame size for market with minimal hassle and anxiety for animal and producer alike.

Stock purchased from a weaner sale may have been weaned straight off their mother for the sale, could have been off feed for up to three days, are in an unfamiliar location, may have been exposed to infection, particularly if they have been in contact with other cattle in the saleyards, and may have been mixed with unfamiliar animals. This means the animal is under a great deal of stress, socially and physically. What you do with those cattle immediately on arrival and over the first day or two is critical to how those animals perform over the months to come and can also ultimately affect quality and price received in the final product.

On arrival, place the animals in a holding yard or paddock with good fencing. Provide them with good quality hay and sufficient watering points to allow them to recharge their depleted energy levels and rehydrate. Let them acclimatise to their new surroundings overnight if necessary.

Assess the temperament of the weaners on arrival. A decision needs to be made as to whether or not to put the animals through a complete yard-weaning program or just to spend some time educating and acclimatising the stock to handlers, yard facilities and your handling and mustering methods (bikes/horses/dogs).

A good yard weaning program assists calves become quieter and easier to handle by becoming accustomed to your yards and being handled, fed, watered and moved through the yards. Yard weaning, carried out over 7-10 days, teaches socialisation with other cattle and has benefits when stock are eventually moved through saleyards, feedlots and abattoirs. Yard weaned calves are more accustomed to hand feeding and are less stressed when around people, dogs, horses and bikes. Beef CRC research has shown that yard weaned cattle are preferred by feedlots due to lower incidence of respiratory diseases (BRD) and higher rates of growth.

If it is decided that a full yard weaning program for the bought-in calves is not required when the temperament of the calves is assessed, benefits remain to putting the calves through a shorter intensive education program to familiarise them with the yards, people and handling methods used on farm such as working dogs, bikes and horses. The purpose of this training is to reduce stress in the animal when subjected to pressure by showing the animal how to obtain relief from pressure. This pressure can come from handling, being confined in yards, being mustered and moved around and from general noise and activity on the farm. Animals become easier and safer to handle and operations such as mustering, yarding, drenching and vaccination can be carried out more efficiently.  

With the right technique, benefits can be seen in stock in a couple of sessions over a number of hours; however, the process may take several sessions over 2 - 3 days depending on their temperament.  Move the calves quietly as a mob around in a suitably sized yard or holding paddock to teach the stock to flow as a collected mob in a controlled orderly manner at their natural walking pace, without resorting to a flight or fight response when put under pressure. Reward desired behaviour by providing relief from pressure.  The calves should be also introduced to the yards and quietly moved from pen to pen and through the race so they become acclimatised to these facilities.  

This is the time to instil good habits and behaviour in your young stock, such as not rushing through gates or races and holding together as a mob after being moved through a gate. This process also teaches cattle to follow your lead. They learn to find relief from pressure by looking for your lead.

At the completion of the induction program, calves can be turned out onto good pasture, under supervision to ensure they are familiar with the paddock and watering points. In some operations, tailing out occurs at this point. Well inducted cattle will put their heads down and start grazing when turned out into their paddock. A rotational grazing program ensures that the calves are regularly handled, reinforcing the initial induction program.

When any new stock are brought onto a property, especially bought-in cattle, best practice is to administer a quarantine drench and 5-in-1 vaccination.

Bought-in weaners that show signs of sickness must be quarantined and veterinary advice should be obtained. In breeding operations, bought-in cattle should be kept separate from breeding stock and replacement heifers until it is established that they do not pose a disease risk to the herd.

A series of three training videos on weaner education has been produced for the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries and is available online via the following links:

Further information

Darren Hickey, MBfP State Coordinator Victoria

Claire Harris, Beef Industry Extension Officer, Leongatha P: 03 5662 9908 / 0448 335 479 E: claire.harris@depi.vic.gov.au

More information about managing weaners is available in Module 5

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