Spring is an important time to think ahead for the pre-weaning phase and calf management. At branding plan for:

1) dehorning and castration (if it hasn't already been done at birth);

2) administering a primer dose of

  • 7- or 8-way clostridial/blackleg;
  • IBR-BVD-PI3-BRSV viral vaccination; and
  • Internal/external parasite control.

These strategies are all a fundamental part of the preconditioning package.
Preconditioning is a term used frequently in the beef industry, but it can mean different things to different people. Most commonly, producers may think that a vaccination protocol is preconditioning, however that is just one component of the total package.

Preconditioning is really preparation of the calf to enhance future health and performance in backgrounding, stocker or feedlot settings, according to Steve Wikse with Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine. Wikse says a ranch preconditioning program for calves should encompass the following components:

1) Dehorning, castration and calf vaccinations.

2) Pre-weaning vaccination for respiratory pathogens including IBR, BVDV, BRSV, PI3, as well as Mannheimia (Pasteurella) haemolytica bacterin/leukotoxid and Haemophilus somnus. Wikse says this should include both a primer and a booster dose before calves leave the ranch. He adds, "The more complete the vaccination program the better. You want a vaccine that covers all the respiratory pathogens because you don't know what pathogens calves may encounter in the feedlot."

3) Deworming for parasite control.

4) Feeding on the ranch for a period of time (typically 34 to 45 days) to get calves used to eating out of feedbunks and adjusted to a new diet. Wikse says, "This step is really important and beneficial in getting the calf over the stress of being weaned, as well as adjusted to eating out of the feed trough and switchng to a new diet of grain from milk and grass. If you can get calves eating, they have less chance of getting sick."

Enhanced Marketing

With these preconditioning strategies implemented at the ranch, producers are adding value to the groups of calves they market. But a challenge in the past has been in producers communicating the preconditioning protocol to buyers and receiving higher prices for those calves.

That was a primary reason Pfizer developed it's SelectVAC program over a decade ago. "The goal of SelectVac is to help producers who precondition better market those calves," says North Dakotan Jon Seeger. Seeger, who is a beef cattle veterinarian with Pfizer, explains that the SelectVAC program aims to bring standardization to the preconditioning term.

To that end, Pfizer established three preshipment protocols based on the VAC 34 and VAC 45 standards initially established by the Texas A&M Ranch to Rail Program. Today, Pfizer's PreVAC, WeanVAC and StockerVAC offer different protocols for producers to choose from based on what fits their ranch operation and marketing goals. "By being enrolled in SelectVAC those calves are then represented at the auction with common, unified terminology," says Seeger.

He adds, "The SelectVac program is a means of validating that calves have met the specific requirements of those protocols versus the old saying 'they've had all their shots.'"

Seeger reports that over the last 10 years there has been a strong movement toward marketing preconditioned calves to capture added value. And he adds, "We are seeing those efforts being paid for and rewarded back to producers because the improved health and performance of those calves at the feeding phase is documented. Preconditioning has become beneficial for all involved."

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