The argument over the economics of preconditioning has always been out there. The debate has primarily centred around: Who incurs the cost? Who enjoys the benefits? Does it add value?
The word preconditioning is implicit in the credo raised right. With greater attention given to beef quality and safety, good animal husbandry practices and a preventive approach to health management, no one can argue about preconditioning being the right thing to do.
The average cow-calf producer doesn t necessarily think about biosecurity and the play between stress, exposure to pathogens and immunity.
Preventing disease, the primary outcome of preconditioning, requires planning and lead-time. Preconditioning implies adoption of proven biosecurity and herd-health practices through the year. A sound working relationship between a producer and herd-health veterinarian in the planning processes are needed for optimum results.
Foragebeef.ca, a website providing technical information on forage and beef production, summarizes preconditioning in the following way:
A preconditioned animal is a feeder calf that has been vaccinated, castrated, dehorned and weaned for 30-45 days prior to sale date and has had experience feeding from a bunk.
Preconditioning reduces stress and resulting health problems for the transition period when the calf is being weaned from the cow and starting to consume dry feed.
Preconditioning offers advantages to both the buyer and seller of the calf. The seller benefits from higher weight gains resulting in more dollars per animal. The purchaser receives a calf that is familiar with a feed bunk, will continue to grow and is less likely to become sick.
When properly advertised, preconditioning provides the seller with a marketing edge over sellers of similar calves.
Preconditioning adds value to the calves in the feedlot and should put them in higher demand from similar calves if they are properly described.
Develop a protocol for treatment and handling of calves specifito your area. Include your veterinarian as an independent third party verifying that the work has been done according to the protocol. Keep detailed records of what has been done and have these records available to prospective buyers.
While research indicates that feedlots can benefit from preconditioned calves they must have confidence in the calves they are buying. This can be done documenting calves back to the herd of origin or participating in a recognized preconditioning program.
Preconditioning is very beneficial for placement of calves into a custom feedlot where the cow-calf operator retains the ownership of the calves. Lower death losses, lower medical costs and improved weight gains improve net profit to the owner.
Creep feeding calves prior to the start of the preconditioning program improves the willingness of the calves to change over to dry feed.
Studies on preconditioning show that after accounting for factors such as weight, grade, sex, feed prices and lot size, preconditioned calves brought higher prices.
Feedlot studies show that preconditioned calves are at lower risk economically due to lower disease incidence. Calves able to withstand disease pressures perform better during their feeding period.
Considering various protocols of drug treatment for incoming cattle, Oklahoma researchers conclude that the only real solution to disease losses is prevention, such as value added cattle that have been preconditioned.
Preconditioning pays for the same reasons it always has, it prepares calves to enter feedlots, which benefit from health programs covering tailored vaccine protocols, low-stress weaning and becoming bunk ready. The value associated with preconditioning come with two caveats: producers must start with uniform groups of calves and sell the fact that calves have been preconditioned.
Preconditioning improves the transitional period between weaning and dry feeding. Resistance to respiratory diseases, for instance, starts prior to weaning and is boosted at the time of weaning in preparation for exposure to pathogens at every turn of the road. An exposure that is generally minimal while calves are still at the ranch. Preconditioning when done properly significantly reduces sickness, death loss, number of calves pulled to sick pens, losses in weight gain, and increases feed efficiency.
Documentation is key to capturing benefits of a preconditioning program. Prospective buyers need verification that a program was followed and that vaccines were used in compliance with Verified Beef Production Guidelines. They need more proof than just the seller saying, the cattle have had their shots. Cattle buyers will usually pay for value but they need to be assured that the preconditioning has been done properly. Availability of animal information to the buyer has never been better, which allows buyers to find cattle easily. Source verification of cattle has become as important as preconditioning itself.
Cattle that have been properly handled prior to being placed in a feedlot have a much greater potential to perform efficiently and be profitable. Profitability of preconditioning is related to market conditions; value fluctuates between premiums paid and discounts avoided. Costs and risks become the variables. Buyers normally are willing to pay premiums for preconditioned calves.
U.S. studies have shown a per-head return to facilities labour and management in the range of $23 to $57 compared to animals entering feedlots not preconditioned or source-verified.
In addition to the economic parameters of increased production and reduced treatment costs, preconditioning moves the industry along the continuum of meeting two important goals: satisfying customer demand for quality and assuring an increasingly critical public that food animals are appropriately cared for.