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Management

Vet believes preconditioning is a must for added profits, improved cattle health

Written by Gayle Smith

Most producers think about preconditioning their cattle but wonder if its profitable.

“I think the real question is if there is enough premium to pull it off, based on what it costs,” according to Dee Griffin, University of Nebraska-Lincoln veterinarian. 

But after keeping track of expenses for a number of years, Griffin said he has found preconditioning pays, whether the producer gets paid a premium for doing it or not, just because of the additional weight gain in the feeder cattle.

Overall, Griffin said preconditioning calves can net about $40 of profit per head.

“The longer we keep them, the more we may make, but there will be some risk of sickness,” he said. “On the upside, by retaining ownership and preconditioning these calves, we will have some good cattle that a feedlot will want to buy. It can help us develop a long-term relationship with a feedyard.”

Healthy cattle

Producing healthy cattle requires producers to stay on top of their game. Griffin shared a story about his own father and the cattle he produced.

“My father had great cattle at home, and they were protected and isolated from other cattle,” he said.

Once, Griffin was approached by one of the feeders who purchased these cattle, and he relayed to Griffin that his father produced good cattle, but once the calves reached the feedlot, they were plagued with sickness, and the death rate was too high.

“He would vaccinate the cows, but the calves were only vaccinated for blackleg,” he shared. “That’s one of the reasons preconditioning vaccinations are so important. We weaned 4,000 calves at the University feedlot last year. Only six of those died.”

“If we take care of the cattle correctly, they will be healthy,” he stated.

Vaccination

Griffin outlined the importance of developing a good vaccination program and talking to a veterinarian about how to apply these disease prevention protocols.

“To get a good immune response, we have to give the calf an effective vaccine properly,” he said.

In one study, calves were vaccinated for IBR with the nasal spray, followed by an injectible booster shot. The calves receiving this treatment had a five percent death loss, compared with a 25 percent death loss in the calves that were not vaccinated.

“The bottom line is there are more than 250 vaccines we can give calves, but only about 10 percent of those are worth taking home, and none of them are worth taking home if they aren’t used properly,” he said.

“If we don’t follow up on these vaccines with a booster, we are only getting partial or short-term immunity in our calves,” he added.

Control IBR

Producers also need to use their management skills to control outbreaks of infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR).

“IBR is very contagious,” Griffin said. “Even with an effective vaccine, sometimes the calf will still die. Many times it is from bacterial pneumonia.”

“Pasteurella kills calves. None of the vaccines are as good as they need to be, and most all of them need a booster,” he added.

Griffin hopes more can be done to control IBR in the future.

“They found a genetic link about 2.5 years ago to respiratory disease in cattle,” he said. “It is looking more promising all the time that they will eventually find the genetic marker to prevent respiratory problems in cattle.”

In the meantime, Griffin said it's important for producers to keep in mind that the vaccine they give today may not be effective for at least 30 days.

“At one time, we used to give shots four weeks before weaning,” he said. “We have now moved that back to six to eight weeks prior to weaning, and it has cut the sickness rate in half.”

Add an implant

“While the calf is in the chute, give it a Ralgro implant. It will increase the calf’s weaning weight at least five percent, putting more money in your pocket,” Griffin said. “If we want all-natural cattle, we better have an extra $150 sitting on the table, because that is what we will lose due to not implanting our calves.”

“Implants work, and they make us money,” he stated.

“Last year, we had the lowest cattle numbers I have seen in my lifetime,” he shared. “Despite that, we produced more beef than when we had 14 million more cattle than we have today. Implants are significant.”

Griffin also noted, “Implants do change the flavor of beef, and taste tests have been done that have verified this, but they are still an important part of beef production.”

Sanitize syringes and equipment

While preconditioning programs are important, Griffin also cautioned producers about handling vaccines safely.

It is important to rock the bottle easily back and forth, instead of shaking it. Shaking certain vaccines can release toxic endotoxins that can make cattle sick. The cell fragments from dead bacteria can rupture if the bottle is shaken too vigorously.

Keeping supplies, especially syringes and vaccine guns, clean is critical.

“Never use disinfectant or soap to clean syringes. It will kill the vaccine and render it ineffective,” Griffin explained.

“Syringes and vaccine guns should be cleaned with hot, boiling water, wiped clean and put away until the next use,” he said.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..