“It’s Time to Precondition”
by Chris Reinhardt, feedlot specialist
Vaccine and antimicrobial technology continues to improve at a breakneck pace. Yet we continue to see that calves which are unprepared for life in the feedlot and which undergo significant stress during and after weaning in route to the feedlot will have morbidity upwards of 30% and first treatment success is often 30-50%. Calves which get mild respiratory disease will gain 0.2-0.4 lbs less ADG and those calves requiring multiple treatments will gain 0.6 lbs less for the entire feeding period. This translates to about 15 lb less carcass weight and 10-15% fewer choice carcasses. It pays to keep calves healthy.
Preconditioning can mean everything from giving calves a vaccination prior to weaning, all the way to 2 rounds of vaccination, pre- and post-weaning, weaning from their dams for 45 to 60 days, and transitioned onto a total mixed ration, feedbunks, and waterers.
As far as animal performance is concerned, the extent of preconditioning needed to minimize post-arrival problems and maximize feedlot performance depends on the extent of stress imposed on the calf during transition.
Recent studies here at K-State suggest that single-source calves shipped 4 hours to a feedlot will benefit from pre-weaning vaccination and weaning and feeding for at least 2 weeks pre-shipment. If calves are going to be shipped a great deal farther, will be extensively commingled either in transit or upon arrival, and may experience adverse weather conditions post-arrival, vaccination and weaning for 6-8 weeks pre-shipment would be preferred.
Investing time, technology, and labor into the calf crop has very real costs for the rancher. But the high purchase price of weaned calves entering the feedlot means the risk of respiratory disease and the financial uncertainty that respiratory disease causes for feedlot producers is at historically high levels as well. Many feedlot producers are willing to pay ranchers a premium to mitigate some of this disease risk which causes them economic uncertainty—consider it “biological risk management.” When certified preconditioned calves are sold at special preconditioned calf sales, they have the potential to bring unprecedented premiums compared to non-preconditioned, “commodity” calves.
Respiratory disease is the most costly disease in the cattle industry, and the greatest factor affecting calf performance in the feedlot. If you can prevent or control disease, you can, to a certain extent, control performance of calves. Feedlots are paying premiums for calves which are prepared for life at the feedlot. Why? Because they perform. As a rancher, you can and should get paid for your investments of time, money, and management.