Stock management

ALWAYS READ THE LABEL

Users of agricultural (or veterinary) chemical products must always read the label and any Permit before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any Permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the Permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this publication.

Good feedlot management is as important as the formulation of the ration.

Before feedlot entry

Stock management is important even before the cattle enter the feedlot. Research has shown conclusively that cattle which are:

  • weaned in yards
  • know how to eat and drink out of troughs; and
  • are familiar with the social stresses of being closely confined;

do much better on feedlot entry.

If your own cattle are intended for feedlot finishing, any procedures likely to cause setbacks, such as castration or dehorning, should be done when the cattle are young calves, well before feedlot entry. Yard weaning is a must.

If buying in other cattle, get a national vendor declaration (NVD) from the supplier or the agent. Check if veterinary treatment or chemical exposure is a possible problem. Ask for weaning and vaccination history. Avoid cattle with full horns.

If you have obtained a good history of your cattle, you should be able to assess what the risks are and plan to reduce those risks. The principle is: the fewer the stresses imposed upon the cattle at once, the better they will do.

If stock entering the feedlot are from more than one source, you can reduce stress and therefore subsequent health problems by mixing cattle in small paddocks for a few weeks (14–21 days) before confining them to feedlot pens. If some of the cattle were not yard-weaned, or have seen only natural water sources, they can be familiarised with troughs during this time.

In the near future, vaccination against bovine respiratory disease (BRD) may become commercially available and should be given prior to feedlot entry if the risk of BRD is considered to be high — for instance, if mixing cattle from many sources.

Feedlot induction

Once again, minimisation of stress should be the primary concern. Good facilities are essential for quick, quiet and efficient processing.

A well-designed loading/unloading ramp will minimise stress to cattle. A generous, level platform at truck-tray level makes cattle movement easy and avoids injuries.

Avoid processing during the heat of the day. If possible, handle animals after feeding, as even quiet cattle will be put off feed by handling.

The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) electronic tags / visual tags will make stock identification, record keeping and traceability a more simple process than ever before.

Ear tags should be used to permanently identify cattle. Tags should identify the individual, its group (if more than one group is being fed) and date of entry to the feedlot. This will allow:

  • tracing of property of origin of all cattle — at induction, record tail tag of property of origin against feedlot ear tag;
  • monitoring of growth rates — weigh all cattle at induction;
  • identification of treated animals to ensure adherence to withholding periods.

Unless you know their history, vaccinate all cattle with 5-in-1 vaccine on arrival and again 4 weeks later. Long-fed animals may need a second booster 60–70 days after the first booster in order to remain adequately protected against pulpy kidney.

Drench for roundworm and, depending on origin, for fluke.

Cattle introduced in the cooler months should be treated for lice.

If stock, particularly weaners, have been on dry feed, give them an injection of vitamin A.

Where necessary, class stock into more specific management groups based on weight and condition. If feeding mixed sexes, separating the steers from the heifers is recommended.

In the feedlot

It is recommended that an additional tag of a special colour be applied to any animal treated with any substance, such as an antibiotic, that requires a withholding period — READ THE LABEL. The dates of all treatments and the animal’s identity should be recorded.

If individual animals are treated with any substance where the withholding period extends beyond the expected slaughter date for the pen, they should not be returned to that pen.

Develop and adhere to a regular routine of feeding and inspection.

The mob size you can handle will depend on your expertise. It is best to keep mob sizes small, with a maximum of 100 per yard, until you are very experienced and have your management procedures finely tuned.

Remove cattle that are persistently wild and do not settle down. Usually cattle settle down well in the feedlot, even if they are very timid on arrival.

Cull ‘poor doers’, and take shy feeders, ‘rumpers’ and bullying cattle out of the feedlot. Ensure the required withholding period has expired for any treated cattle which are culled for slaughter.

Quiet and careful handling will avoid weight loss and prevent bruising, which can cause big financial losses.

It is most important to check the weight gain performance of the mob. It will indicate the presence of any problems and can help your marketing program.

Don’t guess weights — use cattle scales. These can also help you make sure the product you sell meets the desired weight range. A good set of scales is vital to good feedlot management. The state-of-the-art scales shown in Figure 2 are in use at the Beef Cattle CRC’s ‘Tullimba’ feedlot in northern NSW. The weigh crate (behind the sliding door) is suspended from electronic load bars which are connected to the indicator on the table. Some indicators can be connected to a computer.

Weigh all cattle at induction, during feeding (check at least a sample every 4–6 weeks to monitor progress), and on exit.

Cattle scales

Consulting a veterinarian

Stock management and stock health, particularly in an intensive situation, are inextricably linked. Although it may go against the grain to call a veterinarian before you have a problem, it will save you money in the long run if you involve your local vet at the planning stage.

Your vet can help you assess the risks of your particular situation, and plan to reduce those risks. It is wise to have a set system in place for record keeping and induction, to ensure that every animal is treated the same way.

Plan and write down introductory procedures, and set treatment regimes for common diseases. Agreement should be reached as to what situations warrant a phone call to the vet, and what situations will require a visit.