Beautiful green pastures, breezes blowing through palm trees and a week-long cruise from Hawaii to Canada doesn’t seem like it could possibly be stressful. For humans, it sounds like a vacation. But for Hawaiian beef calves in their transition phase from cow-calf operations to feedlots on the mainland, being stress- and disease-free during this time is critical for their future health and success.
Tim Richards III, DVM, Veterinary Associates, Inc., Kamuela, Hawaii, says the fundamental goal of the Hawaiian cattle industry is to wean a 6- to 8-month-old, 400-pound calf that is healthy and ready to take on the stress of being transported 2,500-3,500 miles via an ocean voyage, trucks and/or airplanes. “My belief is that our ‘preconditioning’ of the calf starts with its conception, continues during the neonatal phase and carries on through its lifetime,” says Richards.
Because these young, lightweight calves have to be absolutely healthy and ready for the stresses and challenges ahead, Richards says Hawaiian producers have developed sound pre-weaning and weaning strategies to get calves prepared.
Vaccinating calves at branding time can help get them immunized early.
Over 3,500 miles east as the crow flies in the Kansas Flint Hills, Jessica Laurin, DVM, Animal Health Center, Marion, Kan., is working toward the same goal of developing healthy weaned calves for stocker or feedlot operations. Her target is a calf that gets sold at 650-850 pounds. One of her biggest challenges is the variability in vaccination programs among neighboring herds, fenceline contact between herds and subsequent disease as a result.
“Fenceline contact between a cow herd and neighboring production units becomes a large factor in what vaccinations are needed,” says Laurin. “This is an area of biosecurity that is important. I’ve seen changes from large pastures with only cow herds, to blocks of pastures with cow herds that sit between stocker operations. Stocker calves are brought into our area from over 20 states, which brings a lot of different viral strains to be passed around. Our cow herds have to be
defensively vaccinated to keep calves healthy.”
Laurin mostly sees respiratory disease in 4- to 5-month-old calves, and typically they are in herds that do not have a cow-vaccination program. “They also tend to have fenceline neighbors with groups of put-together calves.”
One of the ways Hawaiian calves are transported is in “cowtainers.” They must be broke to eat and drink out of bunks and waterers.