Use of trainer animals to improve performance and health of newly arrived feedlot calves

Author: Written by Loerch, S. C. and F. L. Fluharty

Journal: Journal of Animal Science 2000 78: 539-545.

Abstract: Four trials were conducted to determine the efficacy of using trainer animals to improve the health and performance of newly arrived feedlot calves. For all trials, trainer animals were given 3 wk to adapt to the feedlot before arrival of the feeder calves and initiation of the trials. Trainer animals were present with newly received feedlot calves for 14 d after arrival and then were removed from the pens for the remaining 14 d of the experiments. In Trial 1, trainer animals were six crossbred beef steers and six mature cull beef cows. Newly received calves were allotted to 18 pens with 10 calves/pen. Six pens contained a trainer steer and six pens contained a trainer cow. Similar procedures were used for the subsequent three trials, except 12 trainer cows and 24 pens were used, and in Trial 4 half of the calves were allotted to pasture paddocks for 14 d before placement in their feedlot pens. During wk 1 of Trial 1, calves with trainer cows and steers gained weight more rapidly (P .20) among treatment groups. Morbidity was 16.7 for control calves, 28.3% for calves with trainer steers, and 8.3% for calves with trainer cows. Four of six trainer steers required antibiotic treatment for respiratory disease. On d 1, a greater (P < .05) percentage of calves in the trainer cow group (81.7%) were observed eating during the first 30 min after feeding compared with either the steer trainer group (60%) or the control group containing no trainer animal (48.3%). This trend continued on d 2 but was not evident on d 3 or 7. In Trial 2, overall gains were 10% greater (P < .06) and final BW was higher (P < .01) for calves with trainer cows than for those without trainers. Trainer cows resulted in a substantial reduction (P < .01) in calf morbidity compared with calves housed alone. In Trial 3, trainer cows did not improve performance or health of newly received calves. More (P .27) gains. However, calves placed on pasture after arrival had lower (P < .03) gains during wk 1 than those housed in the feedlot. Calves placed in pasture paddocks upon arrival had more than twice (P < .01) the incidence of morbidity of those placed directly in the feedlot. In these trials, trainer cows had a significant effect on eating behavior of newly received calves, but health and performance benefits were variable.