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Calf Preconditioning: The Best For Both Worlds

Calf preconditioning can help boost producers’ profits, eliminate buyers’ risk

By: Jon Seeger, DVM, Veterinary Operations, Pfizer Animal Health

Nearly all cow/calf producers will say their goal is to sell calves for a premium on sale day. However, most buyers will say their objective is to buy healthy calves as economically as possible. While these may seem like competing interests, both buyers and sellers can get what they want with calf preconditioning programs.

Studies have shown that preconditioning programs can help cow/calf producers sell their calves for a premium on sale day — at times adding an extra $6.38 per cwt.1 And buyers can reap the rewards of preconditioned calves, too.

Preconditioning programs promote calf growth, enhance immune function and minimize stress during weaning, adding value to calves as they move from the ranch to stocker operations and, finally, the feedlot. While buyers may have to pay a bit more at the time of purchase, they also should see reduced health risk with preconditioned calves, with fewer pulls, lower treatment costs, less labor and higher performance.

In fact, benefits to feedlots have been well-documented, with research demonstrating that preconditioning programs administered at the ranch of origin meant:

• Decreased morbidity and mortality rates2

• Increased net returns in feedlot cattle compared with cattle of unknown vaccination history2

• Calves had a 0.29-pound average daily gain advantage when preconditioned for 45 days or longer3

• Calves had a 7.2 percent better feed efficiency when preconditioned for 45 days or longer3

• Calves had a $29.47 per head lower medicine cost when preconditioned for 45 days or longer3

• Calves had a 3.1 percent lower death loss when preconditioned for 45 days or longer3

What’s more, preconditioning programs are easy for cow/calf producers to implement because many are already doing most of what is required, including vaccination, deworming, dehorning, castration, water and feed bunk training, and weaning prior to sale day.

To help ensure sale-day premiums for producers and healthy feeder calves for buyers, producers should look for programs that include all of these practices and are third-party verified, demonstrated and backed by a trusted company. Additionally, choosing programs that offer flexibility for calves, stocker cattle and heifers helps producers tailor the preconditioning program to fit their — and their customers’ — needs.

Preconditioning programs do require some additional planning and, in many cases, an analysis of the market in a producer’s area. Despite this, calf preconditioning is a smart choice for the cattle industry as a whole, preparing calves for the challenges they will face once they leave their ranch of origin. Finally, preconditioning can help producers enhance the health of their cattle — and their bottom line — and take some of the risk away from buyers. It’s a win for all.

Dr. Seeger grew up on a family farm in central North Dakota. He completed his pre-veterinary training at North Dakota State University and received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University (1969). Dr. Seeger conducted a solo, clinical/ambulatory, general veterinary practice in his home town of Turtle Lake, N.D. for 23 years.

Dr. Seeger then served two years as Assistant State Veterinarian for North Dakota before accepting a position as Senior Technical Services Veterinarian with Smith-Kline Beecham (SKB) Animal Health, Lincoln, Neb.SKB was purchased by Pfizer Animal Health and Dr. Seeger continued to serve as a Senior Technical Service Veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health. During his 17 years with Pfizer Animal Health, he has served as a member of the cattle technical services team, manager of the Drug Safety Livestock Phone Consultant Team, Manager of the Cow/Calf Technical Service team and currently holds the position of Managing Technical Services Veterinarian in the Beef Veterinary Operations group.

Dr. Seeger is a member of the NDVMA, AVMA, AVC, AABP and the NDSA.

*Please Note: This Herd Health Update is the first in a series of columns offering producers information about current management and herd health practices. Columns will be distributed every three to four weeks and are authored by members of the Pfizer Animal Health Veterinary Operations Team.