Everyone is talking about stress these days. Lots of things are being researched and discussed. I find it interesting that people are wanting to know the financial impact or the effect on the quality of beef.
To me as a person with the responsibility of caring for livestock it is my duty to learn and implement the very best management practices possible to care for the animal.
By observing nature we should be able to see the things it provides that are good for animals and replicate these in our care. We also have the advantage of technology and infrastructure to help us decrease stress and improve our ability to raise animals.
It is my observation that we often try to fight Mother Nature. People seem to take great pride in this. We all have heard or told stories about how tough the calving season was, how we forced the cattle to do this, or how much money we spent on a facility to get the cattle to go where we want them to go. This shows how smart and how tough we are, but it may not always be the best.
The two things we do to animals that make the most impact are fences that restrict movement and control the breeding season.
When a fence is around an animal we control what it eats, and control the animals freedom of movement. If we look back to the time of the bison herds nutritious feed and season of year dictated the location of the herd. The time they calved was in sync with the best weather and the highest level of nutrition. The further we get away from nature the more cost we have to overcome. That is something each operation must figure out what is best for them.
Time of calving is a very important subject.
Instead of looking at a pure financial point of view, let’s look at it from the amount of stress put on the animal. I attended a talk given by the late Dick Diven at a conference in Dillon, Montana several years ago. I don’t remember the exact facts he presented but really remember the main message.
He talked about after conception a calf developed with exponential growth. The doubling of cells is happening for the development of the calf in the cow’s womb. The immune system is developed in the latter part of the last trimester, plus about three weeks after birth. This is why colostrum is so important in the first hours of birth. The more stress on the calf, the less chance the immune system has to develop for future use. This is because the energy that was to be used for development was used for survival. Weather has a big effect. A calf is developed in around a 100 degree environment. When it is born it must adjust to its new environment while still wet. The colder it is the more energy It takes to stay alive, taking energy away from the immune system development. It is important to remember a calf is not born with a winter hair coat, no matter when or what part of the world it is born in.
The mother’s licking of the calf to dry it off stimulates the calf’s will to live and gives it the try to get up and suck. They are not gentle about this, and from what I have observed, I think this is a very important part in stimulating the body and brain to wake up and get to living. To me this is a crucial period in a new calf’s life. I try not to disrupt anything the cow is doing in those first hours. The cow becomes super aware of any type of predator at this time. Humans, dogs, other cattle in close proximity, and even strange vehicles can cause the new mother to want to protect her newborn and cause her to try to move the calf or remove the threat. Either way this takes her away from imprinting the life into the calf and it’s ability to get up and suck.
If the immune system is developing in the first three weeks or so, I think we should always keep this in mind when making management decisions. Castration, branding, tagging, vaccination, and moving (hauling or trailing) could have an effect on young calves and serious consideration should be given in how and when these practices are done. The things that happen in this very important time could affect the health and therefore the performance of a calf for the rest of its life.
I feel much more research needs to be done on this. It seems to me many of the health problems we have after the calf leaves its mother and gets into higher stress situations could be from the lack of immune system development in the early stage of life.
I have spent most of my life in the northern part of the United States. If you are selling your calf crop, the frozen eared calves are usually sorted off. The reason they don’t go with the other calves is because if the ears have been frozen, the calves will not perform and have a higher chance of getting sick. To my way of thinking, this is proof to Dick Diven’s way of thinking.
What I say next is honest. It may make you mad, but know I am saying it from my own personal opinion, and I have the right to it just as you have the right to yours.
I think we should look at time of calving from an animal cruelty point of view. If we control the time of calving, and that time can cause an animal to freeze to death or suffer from frozen body parts, or to spend time when it has no way to get warm in freezing temperatures it is really not any different from going out and cutting a calf’s ears off or putting it in a freezer and trying to raise it.
I also think it is important to make sure the breed of cattle are adapted to the environment they are in. Thin-hided short-haired cattle have a tough time handling the cold weather in the north and cattle that do well in the north have a hard time handling the heat and humidity of the south.
There are many operations that calve in cold weather and have cattle in environment that don’t fit the breed. Some step up the management with facility’s and manpower that reduces nature’s harshness. There are some that don’t. They either don’t care, or don’t know. If you don’t care you will be the one that is mad; if you don’t know, you have something to think about!
I am the kind of person that really cares about animals and feel if an animal is in my control, my first responsibility is to learn the best ways to care for the animal. If I can learn things to improve that care or the training of the animal to have a better quality of life, while serving its purpose on this earth, that is my duty. If I learn something new and it shows me a better way to care for or train the animal I should be open to it. It is very important that what we do is fact and not just what we feel like or want to be. Always try to learn a better way. Be proud of what you are doing, but try to improve upon it. Small improvements often create excellence over time.
We can fight Mother Nature, but she never quits fighting back. She has more power and resources and most of the time ends up getting her way anyways. I choose to work with her and I am proud of that.
~ Curt Pate