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Calf Preconditioning: More Than the Right Thing to Do

Healthy cattle are always a win

With greater attention given to beef quality and safety, good animal husbandry practices and preventive health measures have become increasingly important. However, producers don’t have to turn their animal health program upside down to achieve a high-quality product.

“Calf preconditioning is just the right thing to do,” says John Thouvenelle, DVM, Russell Vet Service, Russell, Kan. “If cattle are properly preconditioned and weaned, they are more likely to go on to lead healthy lives, which is ultimately what it is all about.”

Dr. Thouvenelle believes so strongly in the value of calf preconditioning programs, he is willing to put his reputation on the line with his clients who are less than convinced.

“I have clients who are apprehensive about going the extra step to follow a documented program, so I encourage them to try it, and if it doesn’t work, then I tell them to come back and let me know,” he explains.

Dr. Thouvenelle says clients have rarely complained.

Even better than healthier cattle are healthier pocketbooks, which calf preconditioning programs can help achieve for both cow/calf producers and feedlot managers. In 2009, calves that were preconditioned with a documented program and weaned for at least 45 days received $7.21 per cwt more on sale day compared with similar calves without any documented preconditioned claims.1

“Documentation is key when it comes to the benefits of following a preconditioning program,” Dr. Thouvenelle says. “Buyers need verification that a program was followed and that the vaccines were used properly in compliance with BQA guidelines. They need more proof than just the seller saying the cattle have had their shots.”

Cow/calf producers aren’t the only ones that may see increased profit from using a preconditioning program. Feedlot managers consistently tell Dr. Thouvenelle that they treat few of his clients’ cattle. This feedback aligns with large-scale feedlot studies that have consistently confirmed improved health and performance of calves preconditioned with a program such as SelectVAC® from Pfizer Animal Health. In one study, calves that were put through the WeanVAC® program from SelectVAC were four times less likely to get sick, and gained 36 pounds more in the first 85 days on feed.2 When adjusted for days on feed, WeanVAC calves have earned up to $33.71 more net profit per head versus calves of unknown history, and $22.35 more net profit per head than other health program calves.2

“These results are documented and proven, which helps create demand from buyers for preconditioned calves, including calves that are in the SelectVAC program,” says Dale Grotelueschen, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health Veterinary Operations. “Cow/calf producers can help set their calves, and bottom line, up for success on sale day by working with their veterinarian to implement the SelectVAC calf preconditioning program this fall, and marketing the value of SelectVAC to buyers when selling their calves.”

SelectVAC is the beef industry’s ultimate calf preconditioning program with flexible health designations, allowing producers to choose the program that best fits their needs.

“The SelectVAC preconditioning program has been demonstrated over time to help calves withstand the stress of weaning and consequently thrive in the feedlot,” Dr. Grotelueschen says. “Healthy cattle have better average daily gains, have higher quality carcasses and can help producers reduce treatment costs, which helps the producer’s bottom line. But perhaps more important, healthy cattle meet the beef industry’s most important customer demand for a quality end product, which was raised under the highest animal husbandry standards.”