In the world of cattle, stress equals risk. The more stress we put cattle through, the more risk is involved, whether it be decreased production or even increased mortality. The term “high risk” can apply to many different groups of cattle throughout beef production. Mainly, it is thought of as calves bought and sold through local livestock auctions or sale barns, although not all these calves are necessarily considered high risk. These calves are mixed from various locations to form “lots” of similar type and shipped to a new location. Predominantly, this new location will be either a backgrounding yard, a feedyard or even a grazing operation. Although the sale barns create a great opportunity for local cattle producers to market their animals, there is an added risk to the calves themselves, as well as their new owner. The calves that undergo the greatest amount of stress during this time are those more at risk for increased health challenges and, ultimately, death.

Bondurant robby
Ruminant Technical Lead / Furst-McNess Company

Stress remains the single-biggest challenge producers must overcome with calves. This can be caused by management decisions, such as the nutrition provided, handling, vaccinations and weaning practices. Stress can also come in other forms that cannot be mitigated, such as heat, cold stress or other environmental factors. Anything the producer or a company providing nutritional support can do to help lessen those stressors can make a big difference.

Intake is the next-greatest challenge producers face. Intake challenges are often associated with stress, but it can simply be due to the presence of a new feedstuff calves are not accustomed to. During and after weaning, intake becomes critical because the calf can no longer rely on nutrients from milk. If the calf does not consume adequate intake, immune function and growth performance become compromised. Calves getting sick only worsens the intake issue and compounds the problem. Any management strategy that encourages intake creates positive benefits to the producer due to fewer sick cattle and better-performing calves.

Establishing proper intake of both macro and trace minerals, as well as vitamins, is critical during this phase of production. All play a vital role in everything from bone and muscle formation to the immune function’s ability to fight off disease challenges. Due to their roles within the immune system, they even have a large impact on vaccine efficacy. If adequate levels of minerals and vitamins are not present in the animal, vaccines cannot work properly – and disease challenges can’t be warded off as they should be. These micro-ingredients also play major roles in the digestion of feedstuffs, which can impact nutrient absorption and, eventually, growth performance.

With advancements in nutritional understanding and technology, feed additives and other products that encourage intake and increase nutrient digestion and absorption have come to market. These have a positive impact on immune function because they aid in post-rumen nutrient absorption by reducing leaky gut syndrome. Having more nutrients absorbed in the small intestine increases availability of the nutrients needed for growth or fighting off immune challenges. And decreasing the number of calves that get sick reduces the number of re-treated calves and death loss.


That’s where oral drench products play a pivotal role. These products do more than just provide the nutrition that high-risk cattle need. They can be incorporated into an initial processing protocol to provide trace minerals, an energy-containing fat source, yeast products and polyclonal egg antibodies. The combination of these ingredients provided upon arrival encourages feed and water intake, improves trace mineral status, supports gut health and improves nutrient absorption, improving the immune status of the animal.

The overall benefits of using these oral drench products include:

  • Calves being quicker to the bunk and on feed
  • Improved water and feed intake
  • Fewer issues with scours
  • Reduced second and third pulls (30% reduction in re-treats)
  • Decreased labor and medicine costs
  • Fewer chronics
  • Improved feed digestion and absorption
  • Reduced leaky gut and inflammation
  • Better overall performance

As an example, producers using a drench at weaning or on arrival have consistently seen a 30% reduction in their overall antibiotic treatments, mainly second and third re-treats, resulting in a 25% reduction in their death loss. Users have also observed fewer chronics and improved daily gains. On average, these results combine to deliver a 7-to-1 return on investment (ROI) payoff. When looking at treating 100 head of cattle, the drench treatment cost of $350 resulted in medicine savings of $750 and death loss savings of $1,750, for a total savings of $2,500. This doesn’t even consider the improvement in daily gain when using the drench.

Implementing management tools to mitigate stress and improve feed intake should be the goal of every producer dealing with high-risk calves. When you consider the value of calves today ranges from $1,200 to $1,500, every calf that can be kept alive, healthy and productive has a significant impact on the bottom line. Any management tool that can deliver a positive ROI that significant is worth considering in your operation.