Respiratory disease continues to be the major cause of disease in feedlot. On average about 15% of feedlot cattle will have
respiratory disease compared with less than 2% for digestive or any other disease problem. The first step in controlling respiratory
disease in a feedlot is a receiving program geared towards the health of the calf. Many time cattle are processed on the feedlots
schedule not on the calf's needs.
Ideally we would like to feed calves that have a functioning immune system, received all vaccines, accustomed to eating ration
from a bunk, have been castrated and dehorned as baby calves and arrived at the feedlot stress free. However, those calves
are hard to find and usually cost more than a breakeven analysis allows. Therefore, feeders buy high risk calves because they
are cheap enough that they are still profitable even with increased morbidity. Before even thinking about placing calves in
the feedlot producers need to make sure they are ready. Smaller farmer-feeders need to make sure that other farm activities
such as harvesting will not coincide with receiving cattle. Producers should be able to devote at least 14 days of increased
care to make sure that calves acclimate to the feedlot. Labor needs should be assessed to make sure that there is enough labor
available to process and treat calves when required.
Feedlot pens, bunks and water tanks should be cleaned out prior to placing new calves. New calves should be received into
dry clean pens. If it is wet or cold pens should be bedded to allow calves a warm dry place to lie down. In winter shelter
or windbreak should be utilized. Calves in outdoor pens need at least 150 feet2 of pen space and calves need 16 inches of bunk space (12 inches for yearlings). Young calves should have access to long
stem grass hay for the first few days. Additionally, even if calves have been backgrounded on a concentrate ration they should
be started on grass hay if they were received under stressful conditions.
Calves are usually evaluated on the risk status and receiving program is adjusted accordingly. Information such as age/weight
of calf, origin (sale barn or direct), co-mingling, distance traveled, weather and nutrition is evaluated to determine risk
category. Most calves risk status can be identified prior to arrival at the feedyard. However, it is important to visually
appraise the cattle when they arrive and adjust risk category accordingly. Unexpected weather or travel delays can occur.
Evaluate the calves shrink and if it is greater than 7% calves may need additional care. Calves should be observed for evidence
of respiratory disease or lameness. Weight of calves is important for determining immune competency. A rule of thumb is that
calves less than 600 pounds do not have complete functioning acquired immunity.
Low Risk cattle would include yearling cattle that have had minimal stress. Moderate Risk cattle would include yearling cattle
that have been stressed (poor nutrition, management or transport) and calves that have been pre-conditioned for at least 45
days and have not been stressed. Any other calf would be considered high risk. No matter what the risk category receiving
programs need to address the 3 R's of receiving.