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Calf preconditioning boosts ranch reputation and improves industry

“No matter where our cattle go, I want them to do well for people,” Vorel says. “I work hard and take a lot of pride in our cattle and I want to get as much value as I can out of them. But I also want them to be as healthy as possible and I think that’s something we all need to work on to improve beef quality.”

After several years of following his own protocols — and even fellow producers’ recommendations — to manage his herd health, the Luther, Okla., producer decided to use the veterinarian-certified MERIAL® SUREHEALTH® Calf Preconditioning Program on his commercial and registered Brangus cattle.

“Early on, I felt like I had just used bits and pieces of different people’s ideas,” Vorel says. “Then I decided to go with SUREHEALTH because I felt like it was a complete program.”

Dr. Frank Hurtig, director, Merial Veterinary Services, says producers can benefit from implementing a calf preconditioning program in a number of ways.

“No matter what the economy looks like, cattle feeders will always be looking for heavier calves with a reduced health risk,” Dr. Hurtig says. “That’s why implementing a nationwide, veterinarian-certified calf preconditioning program can be a smart bet for producers. Not only will it help to keep calves healthier, but it will also help producers to cater to the needs of buyers and potentially add value to their calves this fall.”

Preconditioning programs such as MERIAL SUREHEALTH are designed to help reduce stress for calves at weaning and improve their immune systems, helping them perform better postweaning.1 Plus, the MERIAL SUREHEALTH Calf Preconditioning Program is the only nationwide, veterinarian-certified preconditioning program.

Vorel thinks the third-party certification that is part of SUREHEALTH is a key aspect to increasing the value of his calves.

“I think the veterinarian certification helps tremendously,” Vorel says. “When you go to the marketing facility today, it seems like every other pen of calves is announced as weaned and vaccinated, and it has gotten to the point where that just doesn’t have much validity anymore. With SUREHEALTH, buyers know that calves have been vaccinated, treated for parasites and weaned.”

The value of the third-party verification of preconditioning claims was analyzed by economists at Iowa State University. This analysis shows calves marketed with third-party preconditioning claims can receive a premium of $6.15 more per hundredweight than calves with no preconditioning claims and $2.75 more than calves with uncertified claims.2 A study also showed that nine out of 10 feedyard managers see a signed veterinary certificate as having an advantage over noncertified programs.

In addition to the possibility of adding value to calves, producers also can look forward to an easy transition to SUREHEALTH, Dr. Hurtig adds.

“Many producers likely already meet most of the protocols that are required for certification with SUREHEALTH,” Dr. Hurtig says. “With just a few simple changes, producers can begin taking advantage of the program — and, in all likelihood, increase their calves’ profitability.”

SUREHEALTH protocols include parasite control with an IVOMEC® (ivermectin) Brand Product, two rounds of vaccinations, a Pasteurella vaccination with RESPISHIELD® HM, a 45-day weaning period, and other best management practices, such as castration and dehorning.

In addition to the calf preconditioning program, SUREHEALTH also offers an option for source and age verification. For Vorel Farms, this option was a perfect addition to an already successful preconditioning program.

“When I started last year with source and age verification, I actually checked with a couple of other programs,” Vorel says. “But, in the end, I decided to stick with Merial. It has been really easy to add source and age verification to our preconditioning program.”

Herd health costs account for a relatively small percentage of a cow/calf producer’s expenditures, but it can have a big impact on boosting productivity and securing profits.4 After nearly 40 years in the cattle business, Vorel agrees that animal health and calf preconditioning are the last expenses that should be trimmed.

“I wouldn’t ever consider cutting back on animal health. To me, it’s one of the main priorities,” Vorel says. “By producing high-quality cattle — and healthy cattle — I can help improve the overall cattle business.”