How to Minimize Show Cow Stress
Change can be very stressful. We all know the common signs and symptoms of stress in people...agitated, loss of appetite (or if you are like me, the need for another bowl of ice cream), weight loss, lack of sleep, etc., but can you recognize the signs of stress in your cattle? Just like humans, each cow reacts differently to change and stressful situations. Part of our job as cattle farmers is to minimize the stress on our animals and to keep our cows as happy and comfortable as possible.
We are busy packing and making last minute preparations for our trip to the North American International Livestock Exhibition (NAILE) next week. We have devised a strategy to make the stressful trip and new situation as easy on the cows as possible. Here area a few tips to help keep your cows calm, eating, drinking and happy as can be.
You always want your cows to be eating and drinking and feeling their best, but it is especially important when showing, so that they look their best in the ring. It is amazing how quickly a cow can lose weight by just going off feed and water for a few hours. Even more important is that you want your cow's immune system to be strong. Just like with humans, when a cow is stressed they are more susceptible to illness. Any time that you take a cow away from your farm, you are exposing them to all kinds of outside bacteria and illnesses. A strong immune system will keep your cows healthy and able to fight off illness.
A great way to minimize the stress of a new situation is to get them used to new situations. The more used to change they are, the more quickly and easily they will adapt to new situations. Several weeks before the show, load everyone up in the trailer and go for a short ride. This will get them used to loading, the movements of the trailer and lets them know that they will eventually return to their home-sweet-home. Make arrangements for people to come visit your farm. This allows your cows to get accustomed to new people so that they don't go crazy at the show.
Our bull does not do well with strangers. One day the hoof trimmer came and Mitchell just happened to be in the grooming chute. He caught sight of the "stranger" and about tore the chute apart. Since then, we have made sure that anyone that comes over gets a visit with Mitchell. The fitter arrived yesterday and Mitchell didn't care a bit. Strange people are old hat to him now.
Water is one of the most important aspects of keeping a cow in tip top shape, but it is also one of the hardest things to keep them doing. Water is usually the first thing that they will turn their noses up to. Walk around the show barn some day and you will be able to pick out the non-drinking cows in a heartbeat. Pay attention to their sides. The ones with sunken in sides are the ones that aren't drinking. Even if they wait a day to drink, it will take a while for their sides to fully expand.
This year we are being more proactive in hopes of keeping them drinking without having to pull out any of our tricks. All of our cows drink out of some sort of water trough here at the farm. Sometimes, something as simple as the smaller size of a bucket is enough to throw them off. Each night after feeding, Daniel has been offering them water from a 5 gallon bucket. They are now very familiar with sticking their whole head in the bucket to get to the precious water. We are also going to haul some water with us. Our farm water tastes different than the show barn water and many times the odd smell and taste is a turn-off. We will offer everyone water from the show, but we will have our reserve supply if someone just won't cooperate.
So what do you do when they are acting like a stubborn 2 year old and refuse to take a sip? Every one has their own secret weapon and at some point we have tried them all. Take a charcoal water filter to the show. If you are at a facility in the city, this will help filter out all of the added chemicals. If you do not have access to a filter, fill a bucket of water and let it sit over night. The chemicals will settle to the bottom and many times the cows are then more receptive to drink it. Add Kool-Aid or Pepsi to the water. They love the sweet taste. Let them lick on a salt block so that they are so thirsty they can't stand it any longer. And as always, offer the water to them often. Eventually you will win the battle.
Another area that can be tricky is when they decide that they aren't going to eat. Before the show, feed them in different areas so that they get used to eating in a new environment. Also, try tying them up while they are eating. If they are used to being in a stall with the freedom to move around, the confinement of being tied up at a show may be enough to make them go off of feed. Mitchell is very finicky and tends to buck at the slightest change in weather, feed, or just mood. We have been using Sure Charge, an appetite enhancer, as a feed supplement to make sure that he cleans his plate.
There are also some medications and supplements that you can give your cows to help keep them healthy at the show. Vita Charge stress tubs are awesome! Vita Charge is a mineral supplement that helps to keep the cows eating. It is not cheap, it weighs a ton, but it is worth the money. We have had the show cows on stress tubs for about two weeks now. Probios is a probiotic that helps to keep their stomachs functioning properly. Our new heifer was sick when she arrived here and the vet made sure that we gave her plenty of Probios to counteract the antibiotics and to keep her digestive tract functioning properly. We have now added a powder form of Probios to our daily feed routine for all the show cows. When we load the cows onto the trailer, we will also give them a dose of the Probios gel to give them an added boost for the stress of the trailer ride.
We have discovered that our little heifer is extremely susceptible to stress. She develops a high fever and goes off of feed when she is stressed. Since she has been battling so much the last several months, the vet recommended that we give her a shot of Excede. Excede is a seven day treatment that helps to prevent shipping feaver and respiratory issues.
The most important thing that you can do to help minimize the stress is to know your cows. Know what is usual and unusual behavior. How much do they drink, how long does it take them to eat, are their sides sunken in more than they were yesterday, are they lethargic or just tired, do they respond to you in the same manner that they do at home?
Know what bothers your cows. We have some that come and go from the shows as if nothing is new. Some of our cows don't like strangers, some don't like to be separated from their buddy, some don't like certain feed supplements. The better you know your cows, the sooner you will be able to detect a problem.
We have been to a lot of shows. Some go off without a hitch while others keep us awake at night worrying. We don't know what this week will bring as we head to Louisville, but we do know that we are doing everything that we can think of to make this as easy of a transition for the cows as possible.
We will keep you all posted on what is going on in Louisville on our 4wileyfarm instagram page. You can also see updated pictures on the bottom of the home page.
Hello! I am Heather... the city girl turned mom to manure loving country boys. My husband and I both grew up in the city, but spent weekends visiting grandparents in the country. We are first generation farmers who learn best by almost always doing things the hard way. I hope you enjoy following along with our adventures down on the farm.