Preconditioning for success

Transitioning from the cow/calf operation to the feedlot is stressful for calves, which is why preconditioning them beforehand is imperative. Mark Hilton, D.V.M. and Elanco technical consultant, stresses the importance of making the transition process as easy as possible for the animal by creating a preconditioning program covering vaccinations, nutrition management, environment and genetics. Along with raising healthier and happier calves, they will also be more productive, resulting in higher profits.

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Preconditioning for success

Importance of preconditioning

Now is the time to prepare your cattle for successful preconditioning this fall. Preconditioning calves before entering the feedlot improves their health and well-being while enhancing the profitability for the cow/calf and feedlot owners.

“When we go from the cow/calf operation to the feedlot, animals are experiencing a new and different environment,” said W. Mark Hilton, D.V.M., DABVP and Elanco technical consultant. “It benefits everyone to have a healthy animal, so it’s important we do everything we can to start the animal off right.”

Hilton suggests that cow/calf producers focus on their calves having a successful transition to the feedlot and trying to reduce disease to nearly non-existent. “Minimizing disease is beneficial for all parties — cow/calf and feedlot producers — and helps us provide a healthy protein source for consumers,” said Hilton.

The basics of building a preconditioning program

A successful transition is impacted by several factors, including vaccination, nutrition, environment and genetics.

“One small issue won’t cause a disaster, but several small issues can add up quickly and become problematic,” said Hilton. “So, it’s critical we do everything we can to be successful."

From a nutritional standpoint, Hilton recommends that someone on your team — a feed supplier, nutritionist or veterinarian — help you manage cattle nutrition. The industry continues to learn more about the importance of nutrition in overall health. For instance, starting off with proper nutrition may lead to a better vaccine response.

“From a health perspective, you need to help the immune system be ready to face diseases it’s likely to encounter,” said Hilton. “Work with your veterinarian to decide what those important vaccines are, starting with a product that covers infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), and making sure you cover any other diseases that typically impact your region.”

Developing successful protocols

“Setting up a health protocol — including vaccines — is critical because we should not be giving all vaccines at weaning time, as that puts more stress on the animals,” said Hilton. “We know that weaning and preconditioning for at least 45 days on the farm or ranch of origin is the most important factor in ensuring health at the feedlot.”

Typical timing for vaccine protocols often include:

  • Branding (2 to 3 months old) — administer first respiratory vaccine and return the animals to the environment they came from

  • Two to three weeks before weaning — consider other vaccines to cover regional diseases and, potentially, the second respiratory vaccine

  • Weaning — implement the second respiratory vaccine (if not completed pre-weaning) and parasite control

For cattle that weren’t preconditioned, consider a metaphylactic treatment. Protecting against bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is critical to maintaining cattle health, especially as they move to a stocker/backgrounder environment.

Another critical goal of preconditioning is adding pounds. This can be accomplished with one of the most reliable technologies in the industry — implants.

Profitability of preconditioning

Though nearly every study shows that feedlot producers are financially rewarded for purchasing healthier calves, some cow/calf producers ask if they receive the same financial benefits.1 In an 11-year study, as average daily gain increased, profits continued to grow.2 The net return per calf from preconditioning was approximately $80 for cow/calf producers in a study from 1999-2009.2

“In all 11 years, cattle earned a profit when good preconditioning practices were followed.2 It’s not a guarantee that you’ll make money, but the odds of making money with a good preconditioning program are more likely than not,” said Hilton. “With tight margins for a cow/calf producer, they can ‘own’ the calf a few weeks to improve its health and improve their bottom-line, while helping feedlot owners receive a healthier calf. Preconditioning is a win-win-win situation.”

Elanco offers a full line of health management products — including Titanium®, Vira Shield® and Scour Bos® — to meet your herd’s needs for a successful preconditioning program. Reach out to your Elanco sales representative or visit to learn more.


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1Hilton, M. and Olynk, N. 2011. “Managing Your Beef Herd: Highlighting Key Determinants of Success in Preconditioning.” Purdue Extension. ID-446:1-3

2Hilton, M. and Olynk, N. 2011. “Profitability of Preconditioning: Lessons Learned from an 11-Year Case Study of an Indiana Beef Herd.” The Bovine Practitioner. 45:1.

Scour Bos, Titanium, Vira Shield, Elanco, and the diagonal bar logo are trademarks of Eli Lilly and Company or its affiliates.

© 2017 Eli Lilly and Company or its affiliates.

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