n Range Cattle Station JUL 1 1972 -
RCS 70-1 January 1970
I.F.A.S. Univ. of Florida
HOW ,WNT7LLACGEP.TED IS
PRECONDITYCIT:iG OF BEEF CALVES? 1/
H. L. Chapman, Jr.
Animal. Nutritionist and Head,
Range Cattle Station, Ona, Florida
Preconditioning has been defined as being a
management procedure that.allows'.a calf to be' weaned and
to pass into the feedlot with a minimum of stress. The
term has received a great .deal of publicity during the past
few years, but in reality most of the actual practices
are not new. The-technology has been available for most
recommendations for some time and the practices are being'
used .by many cattlemen. Nation-wide standardization of
practices involved has not:been successful due to a
variety of.needs in different locations. 'Some areas of
the country require rather extensive immunization programs
while others do not. Some areas require more external
and internal parasite control practices than others.
Many cattlemen do not have facilities for preweaning calves;
others do not have grain or facilities to teach calves
to eat. Simple, effective means of animal identification
have not been developed. However, preconditioned, or
backgrounded, calves are increasing in number and are becoming
V/ Talk presented February 1970, Homosassa Springs,Florida.
more in demand by feedlot operators. At present the most
benefit from preconditioning appears to be based on private
contract between producer and feedlot operator based on
mutual confidence and experiences. As the practice
becomes more widespread and various problems are resolved
it is very probable that backgrounded information will
become an essential part of marketing calves.
In order to determine how well-accepted preconditioning
has become, some of the problems involved and the current
thinking in various areas of the United States, a survey
questionnaire was sent out to experiment stations in the
fall of 1969. The result of this survey are attached.
The first seven questions were to determine how
widespread preconditioning had become. The following
questions were asked:
1. Preconditioning of beef cattle is practiced
in this state:
b. To some extent
c. Quite widely
2. The number of preconditioned calves in this
'b. Increased slowly
c. Increasing rapidly
3. During 1968-69 the estimated number of
preconditioned calves produced in this
state was ___
4. Is preconditioning becoming well-accepted by:
a. Cattle producer (yes or no)__
b. Feeder (yes or no)
5. Are preconditioned calves in demand by
6. Do preconditioned calves bring a higher price
than non-preconditioned calves?
7. Do you have formal research in progress that
feeders or cattlemen could consider when
evaluating the practice of preconditioning cattle?
There was considerable variation in response to the
above questions. The answers are listed, by areas, in the
next table. It is interesting to note that preconditioning
was practiced in every state that responded and was slowly
increasing in usage. Many.people could not make an accurate
estimate of the number of calves being preconditioned.
in their state but the practice appears to be best accepted
in the southwest and far west. Also the feeder is more
in favor of preconditioning than the cow-man. There was
a-price differential for preconditioned calves reported
in some states but the majority did not have any. Ten
of the 19 states reporting have research projects
underway to evaluate the practice of preconditioning.
1 2 3 4a 4b 5 6 7
In order to determine what was considered to be most
helpful about preconditioning the question was asked as to
what was considered the main benefit derived from the practice.
There was a wide variety of responses as.seen below
(the number of responses for each benefit are listed in
parentheses). By far the most common benefit listed was
a decreased mortality and increased rate of gain by calves
during the first 30 days in the feedlot. Other benefits were
closely related to decreased mortality and all emphasize the
fact that preconditioning is in reality good management.
a. Less loss of calves and gain during first
S30 days (10)
b. 'Savings to feeders (4)
c. Reduced stress (4)
d. Less disease incidence (3)
e. Improves management (3)
f. Immunization (3)
g. Acclimation to concentrate feed (2)
h. Teach to eat (2)
i. Reduced shrink (2)
j. Association with confinement (1)
A review of talks presented at national preconditioning
meetings reveals a divergence of opinion among producers,
veterinarians and research people about what practices are
most important in preconditioning programs. To obtain
additional information in this.respect the question was asked,
"What are the preconditioning treatments that are most
important for calves in your state"? The responses to this
question are listed below. Almost all responses indicated
that immunization against disease was vital. There was
some variation in the diseases that should be vaccinated
for but immunization was a must. Other factors that were
considered important are preweaning, teaching calves to eat,
castrating, dehorning and parasite control.
a. Immunization (15)
b. Weaning (9)
c. Teach to eat (9)
d. Castrate (8)
e. Worm (8)
f. Dehorn (7)
g. Treat fo:" grubs (5)
h. Improve transportation efficiency (4)
i. Vitamin injection (2)
j. Record keeping (1)
Each person responding to the questionnaire was invited
to comment on preconditioning. The comments were most
interesting and tend to emphasize the divergence of thinking
regarding the practice. Most of the comments dealt with
specific problems different people were experiencing and
emphasize that there is a need for further research and
experience to show how much benefit preconditioning may
have for both the cow-and-calf-man and the feeder. The
comments are listed below:
a. Preconditioning applies only to ranch of
b. Some vaccinations are waste of money.
c. No extra payment for preconditioning.
d. Certification might bring about increased payment.
e. Catch all phrase that creates much confusion
and means nothing more than good management.
f. Immunization unimportant if cattle know
how to eat.
g. Feeders want calves weaned 4 weeks before
shipment. This can be costly procedure.
.h. No premium being paid so producers are not
anxious to do more than minimum, but
preconditioning produces healthier calves.
i. Claims for preconditioning have not been
substantiated. More information is needed.
j. Biggest problem is transportation of calves.
k. Primarily a management problem.
m. Biological immunization tools need:
n. Integrated cattle.operator will get-most
o. Parasite best done by feeder.
p. Of unquestionable preventative value.
q.. Preconditioning has a lot of value.
One facet of preconditioning that has received much
publicity is disease control. This is not the only factor
but it does constitute an important part of preconditioning.
At the time a calf is weaned it has lost the maternal immunity
which it developed early in life, from antibodies in its
mothers milk, and which lasts until the calf is 4 to 6 months
old. Unless care is taken the stresses occurring at weaning
time will weaken the calf so that it is susceptible to
disease. If calves are weaned directly onto a truck, hauled
for long distances without feed and water and than dehorned,
castrated, wormed and castrated they will lose weight,
become ill and mortality can be high. This has become more
of a problem during recent years since increasing numbers
of calves are going directly into the feedlot at weaning.
Variation exists in thinking as to how long maternal
immunity protects the calf. This is further confused by
some calves developing .immunity through natural infection,
by the fact that maternal immunity varies for different
diseases, that vaccination developed shorter-lived immunity
to bacterial than to viral diseases and that stress may
precipitate a latent or mild infections into acute diseases.
Immunization vaccination programs should not start
until after maternal antibodies have disappeared. Vaccination
will not be effective for animals with passive or maternal
immunity for the disease being vaccinated against. Also,
immunity does not develop immediately. It takes 3 to 4
weeks after vaccination to develop adequate protection.
Local veterinarians should be consulted to determine
vaccination needed and when they should be given. It has
been repeatedly demonstrated that, where needed, proper
immunization programs will result in fewer deaths, faster
gains and more profit.
The need will vary, but when the comprehensive
immunization programs are needed the following treatments
6, or more
Vaccinate for IBR, leptospirosis, blackleg,
malignant edema and give injectable Vitamin A.
Vaccinate for BVD and for P13 if a killed
vaccine is used.
Give injectable vitamin A.
Dehorn, brand and castrate, if not done earlier.
Revaccinate for blackleg and malignant edema.
Treat for grubs and worms, if necessary.
Wean 3 to 4 weeks before marketing and teach to eat.
There may be other treatments that will be needed
in different localities for other diseases or conditions.
Local veterinarians should be consulted concerning the
There are a number of considerations that are involved
in preconditioning. Of most importance appears to be the
need for the cowman and feeder to build up confidence in
the benefits of the program. Immunity must be developed by
properly vaccination, stress must be avoided, animals must
be properly identified and must know how to eat. Certification
must be given describing treatments given and confidence must
exist with the feeder that the treatments certified have
been properly administered. Preconditioning involves extra
expense and facilities. The cowman must have confidence
that he can be adequately reimbursed for the extra cost he
may have. There are number of problems involved. Pre-
conditioning programs appear to be best suited for private
negotiation between the cowman and feeder and must be based
on a mutual trust and respect being developed.
The publications in this collection do
not reflect current scientific knowledge
or recommendations. These texts
represent the historic publishing
record of the Institute for Food and
Agricultural Sciences and should be
used only to trace the historic work of
the Institute and its staff. Current IFAS
research may be found on the
Electronic Data Information Source
site maintained by the Florida
Cooperative Extension Service.
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