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 warbles 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.
Animal Health and Welfare >> Weaning
To learn more on this topic, see the fact sheets posted on the right side of this page. External resources related to this topic are listed below.
What is the Value of Preconditioning Calves?
Want More Money For Your Calves? Study Says Weaning & Preconditioning Pays
Economic considerations on preconditioning calves
Canfax Research Services
The lowdown on preconditioning calves
Canadian Cattlemen The Beef Magazine
Beef preconditioning programs: markets
Build a successful preconditioning program
Capturing value when preconditioning calves
What is preconditioning really worth
Visible and invisible benefits of preconditioning cattle
Feeder calf preconditioning and backgrounding guide
fédération des Producteurs de Bovins du Québec
Preconditioning programs for beef cattle
University of Arkansa
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Thanks to Karin Schmid, Beef Production Specialist at Alberta Beef Producers for contributing her time and expertise during the development of this page.