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Managing Yearling Cattle



     The normal beef calf is weaned at 4-6 months of age, when it is best for the calf and the management.  While still a calf, they can be fed a starter diet of a full grain source left in front of them.  The cow should not have access to this diet, as a grain overload can develop.  Serious problems can arise by allowing calves over 300# to have grain free choice, especially if they have not had an enterotoxemia vaccination.  While a calf is young, their stomachs are like ours, and too much grain is usually not that harmful.  Once the rumen develops after 6 months, grain can ferment into acids and other compounds.  Too much grain causes a grain overload, laminitis, bloat, and other severe problems.  It is the mature rumen that allows the cow to eat grass.  An immature rumen cannot properly digest grass.  After weaning we recommend that you separate the bull calves from the heifers; she can become pregnant after 5-6 months of age. 

     The calf should be vaccinated after 3 months of age with a 4 to 7 way Clostridium, IBR/BVD/PI3/BRSV (syncytial virus) + Lepto 5, Brucellosis (heifer), and possibly Histophilus (Haemophilus), and Mannheimia (Pasteurella).  You should repeat these vaccines a month after first given, and/or after the 4th-6th month of age; we prefer a killed vaccine for BVD as the first vaccination, followed by a MLV vaccine.  There are other vaccines available, and we can help you decide which of these vaccines are needed for your herd.  We recommend only killed vaccines once a cow is bred, and the modified live vaccines if she is open.  The calf should be dewormed at least twice during its first year of life, and more if there are problems with internal parasites.  A fecal exam of the stool can determine if the animals need deworming.  Treat for lice and other external parasites as needed; since there are many treatments available, we can help decide which kind is needed, depending upon farm conditions and the time of year.  If grubs (Hypoderma bovis) have been noticed, we recommend the back pours and other products available.  Most cattle have this problem, yet some areas are relatively free of this parasite.  You should use the products for grubs after October.  If you have recently brought in southern calves wait till November to treat for grubs.  Treating between the springtime and September may result in a reaction that can kill the cow should the grub be migrating near the spinal cord or esophagus.  We wait to treat for grubs after they are in the back, and not yet large enough to notice.  Hypoderma grubs leave the cow in the springtime (March to May).  There are numerous ear tags available for face and other flies that irritate cattle.  Insecticidal resistance has developed to most of these products, so expect to maybe “switch” tags if fly control is not working.  Apply the tags in June, so they have enough insecticide for the months of August and September.  There are products available to feed cattle that control flies.  These products only kill flies that will only lay their eggs in fresh manure, such as the horn fly.  Tetraclorvinphos (Rabon) does not control the housefly.

     Mature cows should have at least 26 to 30 inches of bunk space.  You may see figures for a head space of down to 18 inches, but this type of management is for 3+ feeding times a day, and not recommended for the average herd.  We recommend that there always be a mineral block available for cattle on pasture (and that salt be fed in the mixed ration for a feedlot).  Anytime the feed is being changed, always slowly add the new feed in increasing amounts each day.  This is especially true for grains.  Corn should be added at no more than 1?2#/head/day, or up to 3?4 weeks for a ration change to a “full feed”.  Beware that by letting cattle graze new, green wheat, as this may predispose them to grass tetany.  The magnesium blocks should be provided to cattle on wheat pasture.  By letting cattle graze alfalfa, they can bloat, and poloxalene (Bloat guard) blocks are available.  Always gradually let cattle graze new green pastures slowly, if at all possible.  A cow that has been on hay and suddenly released into a green pasture, can develop cow asthma (an allergic reaction).  We can also see cow asthma in the fall, when a frost or rain has allowed the pasture to green up.  When changing to an alfalfa pasture, allow only 20?30 minutes additional time per day for the first 1?2 weeks.  Feed before turning the cattle onto the alfalfa field.  Asthma is usually seen in older cows.  Always provide water and ensure that the tank is properly grounded if you have water heaters.  Mineral salt blocks are advised.     

     We ask that you carefully record information vital to the economic return of your cattle.  Record if possible:  birth weights,  Average Daily Gain (selling weight less birth weight), weaning weights, birthing difficulties (for each cow), breeding information (bull used), feed efficiency, and other information is very important;  we can help with guidance in this area.  Do not overfeed heifers less than 1 year of age and/or feed more than 2# of protein a day.  Mammary development and dystocia problems are affected by excess fat deposits.  After 6 months of age the protein level should be lowered from 16 to 12%. 

     We recommend that the heifer not be bred till she is 65% of her adult weight.  Pelvic measurements may be indicated before breeding, especially if she was a calf that had to be pulled in a dystocia birth.   Separate weanlings by sex, as after 8 months of age some accidental breedings may occur.  A heifer should not routinely be bred before 18 months of age unless she is of adequate weight (780# if adult weight will be 1200#); a few heifers may be at this weight by 14 months.  If you breed a heifer before 18 months old we strongly suggest you consider using AI or a bull with a small calf birth weight.  There are vaccine requirements needed in pregnant cattle; we have a separate handout on this topic.  If the heifer is not at 85+% of her adult weight by calving, then a nutritional analysis of the feeding program should be considered.  A “springer” is a heifer that is going to give birth within 2 weeks.  Bull calves should be castrated by 4-6 months of age.  Bulls sold after 18 months of age need to be tested for tritrichomoniasis, a regulation our state started in July, 2002.  Since 2012 the use of brands and tattoos for official identification is no longer recognized for official identification such as a health certificate, some blood tests, etc.  When we work cattle we attempt to place one of the veterinary USDA tags in all animals, or you can obtain the USDA RFID microchip ear tag yourself; we recommend the large flap tag so you can use it as a farm tag. 

     For all adult cattle that you plan to keep in the permanent herd we recommend a magnet to be given after the age of 10 months.  The magnets can be given with the routine working of cattle for vaccinations.  If BVD has been diagnosed as a problem, there is a test we can perform on all calves anytime after a couple weeks of age.

     When a heifer is born twin with a bull calf, the heifer will be sterile.  Mark all of these freemartin heifers and send them to slaughter.  To send them to market without this knowledge may only frustrate the next owner that tries to breed her. 

     Each sentence can literally be explained in a whole page by itself.  Call if you have any questions.


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic









Preventing a Cesarean Operation In Cattle


     When one runs a heifer over 5 months of age with a bull, or bull calves over 5-6 months of age, a pregnant heifer can and will occur sooner or later.  Heifers should be weaned and separated from bulls until they are 65% of their adult weight, or almost 1.5+ years of age.  If a heifer is bred too young, most will not be able to give birth normally.  Many cannot have a calf pulled, and thus an operation needs to be performed.  The total cost of a cesarean is usually more than what some heifers are worth.  Because she was bred too young, she is stunted.  Her hips will not enlarge and thus after the expensive operation she will not be returned back into the herd.  If rebred, and she has small hips, you again will be facing what to do with a cow that cannot have a calf pulled and/or a normal birthing.  It is not unrealistic to have an on-the-farm slaughter for a yearling cow in dystocia, especially if her hips are small and the calf has recently died.  To allow a heifer to run with the bull will cost you money if she is bred too early.  With a dystocia where the calf needs to be pulled, a caesarean needs to be done and/or the heifer immediately goes to slaughter, you will lose financially either way.  How much do you want to lose?  Up to 1/4 of some cesarean cattle may die from infections and complications; there is also a couple weeks of giving antibiotic injections that will be involved.

     We realize some facilities do not have the fencing available to keep a heifer totally away from a bull.  The bull calves should be castrated at a young age to prevent breeding with heifers; this is typically done by 6 months of age in this situation, and at this time we would like you to consider giving injections to keep the heifer from having a baby too young if they are this age or definitely if 7-8 months in age.  If you do not have a way to catch up the heifer, you should consider weaning and instead selling her.  To knowingly allow the potential for a heifer to be bred at a young age is not a humane recommendation. 

     For less than $6 an injection, we recommend you pick up some prostaglandins and give these injections every 2 months until she is ready to be bred.  A bottle will last a year for the average calf; the dose is a minimum of 1cc/200#, or 5cc/heifer is the recommended dose we will place on the label.

     If you do abort the heifers, you should then consider conditioning them to load into a trailer 1-2x each month.  Most squeeze chutes that are on the farm are inadequate for a cesarean surgery; we need the left side of the chute to come out and be open at the top and bottom.  If using a regular squeeze chute and the cow does down, this then creates a problem with sterility and ability to perform the surgery.  Tying a cow up with a halter is not adequate, nor any other similar methods with a rope or metal bars.  You will need to haul in a heifer with dystocia to our clinic or a referral facility which has the head catches for c-section operations.  To have a farm call and then try to get things together for a surgery at a proper location will cost you time, money and maybe the newborn calf’s life if you are willing to have a c-section performed.  You cannot take a cow to slaughter at a commercial packing plant if she is pregnant.  After 4-5 months of pregnancy you are “stuck in a very difficult situation”.       


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic