Feedlot cattle are exposed to a variety of stressors, including abnormal behaviors such as buller-steer syndrome, difficulties in adjusting to and finding the provided diet, and effectively dealing with extreme temperatures.
Buller-steer syndrome, or the abnormal occurrence of individual steers (bullers) to stand for mounting by others, has long been known to occur. However, the phenomenon appears to have increased with the development of feedlot systems. It can become a major problem as the buller, unable to escape, becomes exhausted and collapses. Although causes have not been identified (as reviewed by Blackshaw et al., 1997), high densities, use of hormonal implants, and specific social interactions, among other factors, have been correlated with the syndrome.
When stocker cattle arrive at the feedlot, the transition is typically stressful and coincides with decreased feed intake, weight gain, and reduced benefit from the antibiotics being administered. The source of this stress may be a number of factors, but it most likely involves difficulty in adapting to the new environment, regrouping of animals, and feeding routines. Because many of these cattle were previously on pasture, the use of a feed bunk is foreign. Exploiting cattle's gregarious behavior and propensity for socially induced foraging behavior can assist in getting cattle on feed. Loerch and Fluharty (2000) found that housing newly arrived animals with those already adapted to the feeding process facilitated the feeding of these newly arrived animals.
Another problem for cattle in feedlot systems is effective temperature management. Given the choice, cattle will seek an environment to maintain thermal homeostasis, such as shade when provided. Shade and misters are often used in hot environments, and have been studied extensively. However, the myriad environmental conditions call for careful application of each. Misting during summer months must be applied appropriately or it can result in excessive cooling of the cattle's surface, causing constriction of exterior vessels and preventing dissipation of central heat. Windbreaks, used to reduce wind exposure in winter months, must be strategically placed so as not to reduce evaporative cooling during the summer. Lastly, feeding in the late afternoon will cause cattle to have their metabolic peak during cooler parts of the day, and thus reduce heat stress.
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