Making calves comfortable: strategies for feeding light cattle


The drought across much of the Prairies has forced plenty of cows to “come to town” long before the rancher had intended due to a lack of feed.

Early weaning creates a challenge for the rancher, as they try and get these calves to a heavier weight before selling.

When it comes to feeding light calves, there are several considerations to keep in mind. Darryl Gibb, of Gowans Feed Consulting, says one of the biggest challenges is getting a calf that might not be familiar with a feedlot used to feed.

“Obviously the younger the animal, the more attached they are to mama, so it can be a bit of a challenge getting their head into the bunk and eating feed that they aren’t used to eating. The biggest challenge is getting the intakes up, which is an art and a science onto itself,” Gibb explains.

Getting that intake up is crucial, but it has to be done in the correct way as complications can occur very quickly.

How do we ensure that intake is done in a successful manner? For the new calves, says Gibb, it’s all about them feeling comfortable enough to stick their heads in the bunk and eating the feed.

“I’ve seen practices from people going out in the pens and walking with the cattle, and making sure they are aware of where the water trough is. As well, spreading hay out, and doing a sloppy job of it โ€” so maybe some spills out over inside the pen, just so the cattle are more likely to see that the food source is near the bunk,” Gibb explains.

Other strategies include increasing the frequency of feed deliveries so the cattle recognize the feed truck as a source of food, and making sure the ration is top quality and complete so that each mouthful is providing nourishment.

Learn more about feeding light calves, including the proper supplementation program, potential diseases to look out for, settling calves, and more:

For more reading on the topic, visit the Beef Cattle Research Council’s resource on the topic here.

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