Calving is one of the most stressful times

Backgrounding cattle – health management

Author: Dr. Shelby Roberts

Calving is coming to an end, giving producers the ability to breathe and recover from, arguably, their most stressful time of year. However, for the calves they are raising, the most stressful period is yet to come. The weaning process is widely recognised to be one of the most stressful stages within the beef system.

As an industry, we are beginning to understand that prolonged periods of stress can negatively affect:

  • Overall health
  • Average daily gains
  • Feed efficiency in beef cattle

These losses in growth efficiency in weaner cattle also lead to losses in overall profitability.

With the knowledge that stress negatively impacts animal health and performance, producers should start focusing on producing resilient calves that can handle the stress of weaning. Developing management practices that focus more on disease prevention is the key to building a healthy, resilient calf crop.

Effective preventative health management programs require producers to evaluate their individual production systems to determine what type of health challenges they need to manage and when these challenges will occur. The best place to start implementing preventative health measures is at the cow-calf operation. When it comes to having the most impact on lifetime animal health, cow-calf producers hold all the power.

As an industry, we must give great attention to preparing calves for dealing with upcoming stress. We work to minimise the duration and the degree of stress that animals experience during weaning, but these stressors are never going to fully disappear. The question then becomes: How can we manage herds so that they are producing resilient calves that can handle the stress of weaning?


Managing animal health and production losses in beef calves that are stressed after weaning is a major concern for producers. The stress animals experience during these periods of transition does have consequences, like suppression of immune functions and decreased growth, both of which lead to overall losses in production. One major component of a preventive health management program should be developing a healthy gut prior to weaning.

Backgrounding cattle for about 30 days following weaning is an ideal way to minimise stress and straighten out heifer and steer calves before transitioning them to the feedlot. Backgrounding periods are usually forage-based systems that aim to increase body weight through frame growth and muscle development rather than establishing fat.

Backgrounding enterprises present an excellent opportunity to establish a healthy gut before feedlot receiving.

Overall gut health is predicated on several factors:

  • Establishing a stable gut bacterial population
  • Maintaining intestinal integrity
  • Promoting healthy immune function

A heathy gut is essential for efficient nutrient absorption and immune function. Scours is one gut health issue that is normally seen during the weaning period. Scours is the result of an unhealthy, inflamed gut. The key to a healthy gut is establishing and maintaining a healthy gut microbial population so that the pathogenic bacteria don’t have the chance to overpopulate and cause inflammation.


Preventative health programs should include vaccination protocols developed with your veterinarian and the implementation of low-stress management practices. However, the use of nutritional technologies designed to support and promote gut health are often overlooked when developing health protocols.

Actigen® is a unique product derived from a select strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast using a proprietary process developed by Alltech. When incorporated into the diet, Actigen supports gut integrity and overall performance. Part of the Alltech® Gut Health Management program, Actigen is key to building a foundation for performance and profitability in beef production.

How to feed Actigen

Establishing gut health and development in calves is essential for building a foundation of performance and profitability in the future herd. Actigen focuses on supporting animal performance by promoting good bacteria, building defences and maximising growth and efficiency. Actigen can be used to increase feed efficiency and dry matter intake of calves’ post weaning, especially during high-stress periods like weaning and feedlot transition. Actigen can be incorporated into multiple feed types, such as milk replacers, pre-weaning creep feed, preconditioning supplements and feedlot entry formulations.

For more information on Actigen, click here or contact your local Alltech Lienert representative on 1800 649 231.