With the weather cooling as I write this article, I have seen a noticeable increase in scheduling for calf processing. So I thought this might be a good time to discuss pre-conditioning programs and what I believe is their value to the cow-calf producer.
As a producer, your first decision is whether to vaccinate calves or not before going to market. In my opinion, this is a must for cattlemen who plan to be involved in the cattle industry in the next 20 years. Research has proven many times that calves enrolled in preconditioning programs gain more efficiently in feedlot situations over calves sold directly off the cow. Buyers consistently favor vaccinated calves to fill out loads going to the feedlots. Many buyers, once they find a producer whose calves do well in their feeding operations, will come back and buy calves year after year.
Most preconditioning programs are similar in makeup. They involve vaccination for clostridial disease, viral respiratory disease and bacterial respiratory disease. In addition, deworming and dehorning are necessary parts of a good program. Most programs require booster vaccinations to sustain long term immunity prior to sale. In some instances, a single vaccination program may be available. This may be a benefit for calf producers who do not have good facilities to hold calves and background for 45 days. In most cases, I prefer the two shot programs because of the completeness of the immunization they provide. I also think feedlots are looking for heavier weight calves due to rising feed costs. Each individual producer needs to sit down and assess whether backgrounding calves will pay for itself; this will vary between operations. Another advantage to preconditioning programs is proper vaccination of replacement heifers. These are the future of your herd and should be treated as an investment and protected.
There are a multitude of programs for vaccinating calves at weaning using a multitude of products. I am not here to promote one company's vaccines over another; sit down with your veterinarian when designing a vaccination program to decide what products are right for you. Once you have those decisions made, decide when you plan to wean calves and schedule your vaccinations. I think the best vaccination schedule involves working calves before they are weaned; this reduces stress on calves and allows for their immune systems to develop a better response to the vaccines. Follow up boosters should be administered 3-6 weeks following the initial round. Most programs are designed with a 45 day holding period following weaning to get calves used to eating well. Sit down with your pencil and your vet and decide what the right program is for you and get your calves ready to sell and sell to your biggest advantage.
Mike Bloss, DVM, owns Countryside Animal Clinic with his wife, Kirstin Bloss, DVM, in Aurora, Mo.