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Stocker Cattle: A Rapid Receiving and Controlled Stress Program

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Posted Jul. 31, 1998

I have been of the opinion for a long time that "usual" stocker cattle purchasing, receiving, medicating, etc., has contributed to increased stocker cattle and people stress and thus more stocker cattle sickness, death loss and poor performance during early pasturing.

Six years ago we started using the following method of procuring stocker cattle for the Controlled Rotation Grazing Unit and the Pasture Demonstration Farm Crabgrass-Winter Pasture double-crop demonstration. The idea was to buy and receive healthy stocker cattle quickly, do all veterinary practices immediately and turn the cattle on green pasture immediately. All of this was done to reduce stress on beast and man, reduce cattle sickness, reduce death loss, achieve weight gain as soon as possible, and maintain it.

The original plan was to do all of the above in three days. After excellent initial success with a three-day program, some cattle were bought and processed in two days and some even in one day. The procedures worked well in all day formats, but one day is a bit of a problem for us. There are simply more things to facilitate than we can usually do in one day. Most of our stockers are now handled in a two-day period from purchase to pasture. Co-workers Wayne Dobbs, Bret Flatt, Robert Carpenter, Doug Grounds and Devlon Ford are credited for doing most of the dirty work.

The basic approach is to buy "fresh" 275- to 450-pound steers and bulls from a region within two hours of home. Multiple regional sales provide that option. These cattle are bawlers as well as well-weaned cattle. These cattle are then processed as follows.

Day 1: Purchase, receive, provide feed/ hay and fresh water, and initiate electric fence training.
Day 2: Continue exposure to feed/hay, water and electric fence. Do all veterinary practices. Move to green pasture.

The veterinary practices are as follows:

  • Brand, castrate, dehorn, number eartag, implant and deworm.
  • Vaccinate: 7-way blackleg with haemaphilas sommus, Cattlemaster 4- and 5-way leptospirosis, pasteurella haemolytica, Micotil antibiotic and tetnus (if castrated).
  • Give booster vaccination in 3-4 weeks with 7-way blackleg and Cattlemaster 4.


Cost per head for veterinary medications is around $16.00, more or less. The value of one stocker calf saved that would otherwise die, can more or less pay for Micotil for about 60 other head.

The success of the controlled stress and veterinary medicine related practices is presented in the following table. We are very pleased with the success of the technique. It is also excellent for labor and time management control and limited stress on people. The technique is a great time saver over other methods of receiving cattle.

In addition to the above results, initial groups of stockers were evaluated to determine rate of gain over time. They produced a cumulative average daily gain of 1.7 pounds by the second week on pasture. That gain was maintained or increased thereafter. From a pasture manager's point of view, that was excellent and a strong economic influence. Research elsewhere shows up to three weeks on pasture before positive gain is achieved.

We are rotational graziers. Rotational grazing has many "fringe benefits." One of these benefits is the option to forward plan and provide green forage in some paddocks to be used for this purpose.

Part of the success of this technique is in buying regional cattle that supposedly are not as stressed as "world travelers," or otherwise more stressed cattle. However, I believe that the technique would work just as well with cattle more stressed than ours have been, i.e., the technique would limit the stress, death loss, etc., and advance performance relative to where the animal originates.

There are a couple of serious limitations. One is that we do not play the market much. We simply buy only when we have grass to feed, but there are times when we have pasture and we can target purchases at periods of market price declines, etc. The other is that the technique limits our ability to stockpile massive numbers of cattle in a short time. It will work for some graziers and not others.

We are not veterinarys, but we know the technique works for us. If it appeals to you and you wish to use the technique, please discuss it with your veterinarys and animal health advisors, and seek their input in adapting the technique to your operation.

A more thorough publication on this subject is being processed. If you wish to have the complete article when it is completed, please write us and we will forward it as soon as it is available.