Their roles also include teaching producers to consistently improve animal handling practices. That requires close observation when visiting a ranch or feedlot, and making sure that all interactions producers have with herds are “positive both for the animal and the person.”

 The key goal, Noffsinger explained, is for all producers and caregivers to encourage free movement of cattle.

“We can’t expect harmony within our beef production units and food-producing animals if we don’t take the responsibility to create voluntary motion within these animals,” Noffsinger said.

By mastering voluntary motion with time and patience, producers can make herds familiar with pens, chutes, processing alleys and pasture rotation. That pattern improves animals’ lives and makes ranchers’ work easier.

This requires “a consistent language, a consistent communication” that removes fear, anxiety and hesitation for the animal. Effective producers take the time to adapt animals and make them familiar with working conditions to a point where they will “voluntarily stay in holding pens with the gate open.”


“The point we’ve missed a lot of times is that our responsibility is to move cattle in such a way that they will see they belong where we put them.”

Young calves are especially impressionable, Noffsinger said, which makes every stage of the animal’s life a critical training period before the stressful days of weaning arrive.

When producers work young calves, they should always consider the objective goal of weaning.

Key suggestions and benefits emphasized by Noffsinger in training young cattle included the following:

Maximizing the maternal bond
The receptive bond a calf develops under its mother makes it able to learn quickly in other settings. Giving handlers the courage to improve cattle behavior requires them to follow the calf’s adaptive understanding.

“Baby calves learn so much faster than mothers – it’s amazing,” Noffsinger said. “When we’re processing anything, our goal is to create voluntary cattle flow.”
Enhance nursing frequency
The correlation between health and performance is more obvious with enhanced nursing. Those calves that “never left their mother’s side and nursed 20 and 50 times a day, in small tiny meals” showed drastic increases in digestive health, performance and preparation for weaning.

Imitate weaning before you wean
Noffsinger said pairing, branding and fall work all lead to an effective weaning and stronger health once the calf is separated. When producers have to separate mothers and babies for calfhood vaccinations or marking, or to synchro the mothers for breeding, “use those opportunities to prepare the calf for weaning, and follow that same pattern as you do weaning.”

Weight gain on weaning day
When a properly trained calf heads into its weaning period, producers can see animals gain “about the same amount of weight on the day they’re weaned as they did the day prior,” Noffsinger said, mostly due to training and patient interaction it has with caregivers.

“Twenty years ago, it was not unusual to see young calves eating half their maintenance requirements for several days during the weaning process. Now our expectations are for those calves to eat the same or more than they did prior to being separated from their mothers.”

Disease resistance and immune function
Elevating hydration and nutrition for a calf is critical to a healthy start. “If we can ask an animal to give up its mother and move to a new territory and (eat) enough feed and drink enough water to gain 2 pounds a day, it’s just amazing what happens to the disease resistance of that animal.”

A successful transition period with higher intakes keeps the cycle going forward, Noffsinger explained, with disease resistance and immune function that can be further passed on to the new dam’s calves.

Seamless processing, sorting and shipping
The objective when working cattle in a facility is to take time – sometimes walking them through facilities two or more times – before processing. Producers should see those opportunities as “an adventure, not a chore” and a chance to make cattle comfortable in their environment.

“The 15 minutes it takes to do that extra work with 50 heifers will change those animals for the rest of their lives.”

Producers and caregivers, Noffsinger explained, “have to take some responsibility” for the behavior cattle show in daily routines. The differences are seen in the end product stage, with cattle carcasses graded with “lots of intramuscular fat that end up in the upper two-thirds grade of choice.” But if health and performance are interrupted in just a three-week span of weaning, “it changes that process of carcass development, and we lose some of that genetic potential.” end mark


Nebraska veterinarian Tom Noffsinger told AABP participants that small observations of cattle they give care for make a significant difference in improvement of their early development. STAFF PHOTO