Source: Beef Cattle Research Council
Preconditioning is a management method that prepares calves to enter the feedlot and can really pay off in a retained ownership or direct marketing system. Preconditioning was developed to reduce large economic losses associated with high morbidity and mortality due to acute respiratory disease in highly stressed weaned and transported beef calves (Radostits, 2000). Calves are typically vaccinated at least 3 weeks prior to sale or shipment and are at least 4 months of age prior to being vaccinated. They are also castrated, treated for parasites and dehorned at least 3 weeks prior to sale (Radostits, 2000). A preconditioning program also requires that calves be weaned for a minimum of 45 days and have some experience eating from a feed bunk prior to leaving their place of origin.
Many studies have shown the benefits of preconditioning on feedlot performance. Improved rates of gain and feed efficiency, as well as lower treatment rates and death loss lead to a lower cost of gain at the feedlot. Studies from the Noble Foundation, Oklahoma State University and Kansas State University have demonstrated an increase in net value ranging from $13.71/head to $57.31/head for preconditioned calves, including the cost of the pre-conditioning program.
To develop a preconditioning program that fits your budget and is tailored to your specific operation, consult with your local veterinarian.
Calculator: Value of Preconditioning Calves
This calculator evaluates the economic opportunity from preconditioning by providing a summary of estimated net returns and projected breakeven price premiums of three different precondition programs.