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By Jerrold Tesmer

Fri, Sep 21st, 2012
Posted in All Agriculture

Jerrold Tesmer, Extension Educator for Fillmore/Houston Counties

Source: Timothy J. Goldsmith DVM, MPH, DACVPM, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine

It is the time of the year to start considering the marketing of your calves. It is also the time of the year when we start hearing about preconditioning calves and how important that is to adding value to your calves.

What exactly is preconditioning? Currently this term is used loosely throughout the cattle industry, but what does it mean?

Preconditioning as a management program is designed to prepare calves to move through the high stress time of weaning from the cow to the next stage of their life. This is a critical time for calves as it has historically been the highest risk time for sickness. With the high price of calves and high input costs on the feed side cattle buyers desire cattle that will go to work at the feed bunk and stay out of the sick pen.

The basis for any preconditioning program is to plan vaccinations, processing procedures, and nutrition changes prior to the stress of weaning, with the goal of preventing illness during and after the weaning period.

The goal of vaccination is to induce an immune response in calves prior to the exposure to common diseases associated with weaning, commingling, and transportation. In order to maximize the immune response vaccines must be administered appropriately. Appropriate administration of vaccines includes keeping them out of direct sunlight, vaccines should be kept cool on warm days and not frozen on cold days, using the correct dose, administering by correct route, giving a booster if using killed vaccines, and using cattle handling practices that reduce the stress on the calves. Vaccines should be given at least two weeks and not more than six weeks prior to weaning; depending on your program this may include a second round of shots 2-6 weeks following the first.

Typical processing such as castration, dehorning, and deworming can add up to become very stressful to a calf. Doing these procedures prior to weaning so that calves can be healed is desirable and can greatly reduce the amount of stress a calf endures at weaning. Treating for internal and external parasites has a great benefit for the calf as parasites can greatly reduce the immune status of a calf as well as steal important nutritional resources.

One of the greatest changes a calf goes through at the time of weaning is the reliance on their mother’s milk and grass to a processed feed. These changes often accompany a change in environment and location. Anything that can be done to prepare calves for this change such as lowered feed bunks to allow access with cows, and water tank access will help calves recognize where and what feed and water is. This will allow calves to start on feed sooner after weaning and reduce the depressed feed intakes associated with weaning. This is where backgrounded calves that are bunk broke for a minimum of 45 days have an advantage from a marketing standpoint.

Vaccinations, processing procedures and parasite control needs may vary from herd to herd and effective nutrition program will enhance calf performance and get cattle adjusted to a drylot quickly. Consult your veterinarian for help in developing a specific preconditioning program tailored to your operation.

Capturing value is the ultimate goal for these programs and that entails communicating what you have done to buyers, working on developing a marketing program will help ensure you gain the most value for your calves and your management.

My thanks to Timothy J. Goldsmith DVM, MPH, DACVPM, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine for providing the information in this article. If you would like the full version please e-mail Kristi at or call 507-765-3896 and ask for the SE MN Grazing Gazette, September/October 2012 issue.

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