Vet's Opinion

Preconditioning Of Calves Is A Win-Win-Win Equation

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If win-win-win appeals to you, take a look at improving or adding preconditioning to your beef business.

It’s hard to argue with win-win situations in life. Even better are win-win-win situations. Preconditioning (PC) calves fits the win-win-win scenario.

The first win of PC is the calf’s health and welfare. The research studies are solid on the health and welfare benefits to PC calves – there’s less morbidity and less mortality in the feedlot.

The second win is for the cow-calf producer. PC calves gain weight very efficiently. In fact, our 11-year Purdue University study of an Indiana farm shows that 63% of the profit from PC calves comes from the added weight sold (see the summary at http://j.mp/Mtl5sl ).

The key to PC success is building a team of experts to provide guidance on vaccinations, nutrition, genetics and marketing of these calves. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Provide a balanced growing ration that will allow 2.5-3.0 lbs./day gain during the PC period;
  • PC for 50-90 days to add more profit vs. a PC time of 45 days or less;
  • Develop a vaccination protocol to ensure high health;
  • Improve herd genetics and optimize heterosis;
  • Market calves as fully PC via a special sale or private treaty for optimum results.

And that’s where the third win comes in – for the purchaser of PC calves, where improved health, decreased labor, no bawling for their dams, calves going on feed more quickly, and improved profitability are all benefits.

July is an excellent time to begin the PC process for winter/spring-born calves. If bull calves aren’t already castrated and/or dehorned, it’s much less stressful on the calf and the producer to do it now rather than at or near weaning.

We apply fly spray when we hot-iron dehorn but, in my experience, we don’t need to apply any on the scrotum. Calves heal up very quickly and use their tail or back legs to eliminate fly concerns.

Fly control in the form of tags, pour-on and spray can be a welcome relief for the calves.

Many modified-live respiratory vaccines can be used at this time. Another dose at weaning should provide adequate immunity.

A low-dose implant administered to all steers will provide a $40 return on a $1 investment. Implant all non-keeper heifers, as well as potential replacements over 45 days of age, if desired.

Ask your herd health veterinarian about deworming calves at this time because, in some environments, it will also be a benefit.

Of course, there is cost in PC calves. For the cow-calf producer, there are added feed cost, vaccinations and labor. You may also need to update your facilities.

In our Indiana study, we showed a PC cost of $93.60/calf for a 56-day program, with added returns of $174.30/calf, for a net return to labor, management and facilities of $80.70/calf. The last four years of the trial, we asked the owner to track all added labor due to the PC process.

When the net return on an hourly wage basis was calculated, the owner made nearly $96/hour for his time spent in preconditioning 100 calves/year. Considering that the average beef producer made a profit of $49/cow for owning the cow for an entire year those same years, doubling that amount by owning the calf for an extra 56 days seems to be a wise financial move.

PC is not a one-size-fits-all program. You must examine your resources, your facilities and your cattle to determine if it’s a wise investment. If it is and if win-win-win appeals to you, take a look at improving or adding PC to your beef business. 

W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

Jim McGrann (not verified)
on Jul 2, 2012

Please warn the producers about price slide and the seasonality of calf prices. Many yards don't want calves out of a program that have gained more than 2.5 lb./day.
Special sales are required to capture higher price.
Need to charge for labor and facilities.

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