Calf pre-conditioning programs – A little time and money spent up front will return dividends later

Pre-conditioning calves puts money in the bank!

Properly pre-conditioning calves can gives producers a large return on their investment.

Properly pre-conditioning calves can gives producers a large return on their investment.

Where can beef producers spend $10 for life insurance and then get paid a 400 percent return on your original investment? Answer: Properly pre-conditioning and vaccinating your calves!

Calf pre-conditioning should be a priority for every herd health program. An effective program can be developed to fit most opera­tion and management approaches. For vaccination to be effective, they must stimulate the immune system to create a defense mechanism against important disease pathogens. Vaccines however are only part of management. We cannot overlook nutrition especially mineral/vitamin intake, environment, as well as stress management. Calf health should be addressed with the three legged stool approach.

  • First Leg: have calves gaining 2 pounds per head per day or more up to weaning.
  • Second leg: provided adequate nutritional supplementation focusing on high quality mineral/vitamin supplement that is available to all calves at least 45 days prior to weaning.
  • Third leg: calf management at weaning and after must focus on minimizing stress for the 30-45 day pre-conditioning period. Prevent stacking stressful events such as weaning, castrating, (castration soon after birth is recommended), dehorning, deworming, vaccinating, comingling, changing feed or water source, weather stress, etc. – you get the idea. The more we stack stress, the less likely our pre-conditioning program will be effective.

Several options for pre-conditioning will work. Many will start vaccinating 2-3 weeks prior to weaning and then give booster vaccinations 2 weeks post weaning. Other may choose to vaccinate at weaning and then administer the boosters 3-4 weeks later. I prefer to wean, vaccinate 10-day post weaning and booster 3 weeks after the initial vaccination. This allows weaning to be accomplished without additional stacked stress events and with fence line weaning, everybody sleeps better. Ideally, calves should be weaned for 45 days before they move to market. Produc­ers should consult with their local veterinarian or Michigan State University Extension beef educator to design a vaccination program that fits their particular operation and marketing plan.

To help producers better understand vaccination programs and scheduling, the Michigan Cattlemen’s Association along with cooperation from MSU Extension developed the MCA Stamp Program. The program is self-verified by the producer by completing a one-page form that lists all management during preconditioning. This form is then faxed or emailed to the MCA office and signed for final verification. The form can then accompany your calves to the market of your choice.

Goals of the Vaccination Stamp Program

  • Establish a standard health protocol for Michigan feeder cattle
  • Maximize the performance and confidence in Michigan feeder cattle
  • Help producers capture value for providing feeder cattle that are healthy and preconditioned

If you have questions about the MCA Stamp Program, please contact the MCA office at 517-347-8117 or contact me at 616-527-5357.

For those marketing calves out-of-state, consider reviewing the pre-condition protocols at the Superior Livestock website.

If we manage nutrition and parasite loads, minimize stress, keep cows and calves in a good environment and use the proper vaccination protocol, (keeping all three legs of the stool grounded) we have a good opportunity to produce healthy marketable calves. This in turn will generate more income and potential repeat customers for your operation.

For additional cattle management resources, visit the Michigan State University beef team website.

Related Events

Related Articles

Related Resources