Improving Herd Health and Profitability Through Vaccination and Preconditioning Programs

Project Title

Nova Scotia On-Farm Cattle Preconditioning Pilot Project


Brad McCallum – Nova Scotia Cattle Producers

Ashley Anderson – Agri-Commodity Management Association Scott Dixon - Atlantic Stockyards Ltd. Dr. Frank Schenkels, Dr. Tyson Hay, and Dr. Alexander Burrows- Fundy Veterinarians Katie Trottier, Jonathan Wort - Perennia Food and Agriculture

Status Project Code
Completed October, 2022 KTT.05.21


Proper preconditioning and weaning of feeder cattle are important for both the health of animals as well as has an impact on profitability for cow-calf and feedlot operators. Proper preconditioning includes tagging, castration, dehorning, vaccination and weaning.

Based on sales data from Atlantic Stockyards Ltd., vaccinated feeder cattle typically sell at a premium price compared to unvaccinated cattle of between $50 and $150 per head. Properly preconditioned cattle also perform better in the feedlot because they are healthier and better adjusted, and therefore do not experience setbacks or delays in growth.

Over the past number years, the Nova Scotia Cattle Producers have partnered with the Maritime Beef Council, Perennia, and veterinarians to deliver several calf health workshops, focusing on vaccination protocols. During this same period, there has been little increase in the proportion of, particularly vaccinated cattle, marketed through Atlantic Stockyards Ltd. There has been a trend over the past six years for fewer cattle to be vaccinated at fall and early winter feeder sales.

When discussing with producers why more feeder cattle are not vaccinated, two challenges consistently rise to the top – lack of understanding of protocols and on farm infrastructure (physical and time) to process animals.


The objective of the On-Farm Cattle Precondition Pilot Project is to improve cattle herd health in the province of Nova Scotia by increasing the quantity and quality of vaccinated brood cows and pre-conditioned feeder calves. To achieve this, project goals include:

  • Increase the awareness of buyers and sellers of the importance of vaccinating and pre-conditioning cattle;
  • Improve on-farm preconditioning practices through training and education;
  • Increase the proportion of pre-conditioned feeder cattle marketed at auction;
  • Build industry capacity by developing an on-farm cattle processing team;
  • Introduce novel preconditioning services to NS beef farms;
  • Conduct a break-even analysis for service delivery and establish user fees for continued delivery of the service; and
  • Increase the proportion of positive titer feeder cattle marketed at auction.

What they Did

This project focused on awareness and education about proper preconditioning practices, including weaning, castration, de-horning, proper tagging, age verification, and vet-defined vaccination protocols.
Delivery of an on-farm preconditioning service for beef farmers across Nova Scotia included purchasing mobile handling equipment, weighing equipment, and animal health equipment and supplies. A technician was trained and retained to provide services on-farm.

Workshops for potential participants were developed and delivered to raise awareness of the benefits of preconditioning. Webinars were hosted with regional veterinarians highlighting whole-herd vaccination programs and feeder calf preconditioning. Information was also shared via the bi-weekly podcast Maritime AgCast hosted by the Agri-Commodity Management Association and through the Maritime Beef Council’s Atlantic Beef School.

Producer participation in the project required attending training workshops/webinars, a valid vet-client-patient-relationship (VCPR), participation in the already established Cattle Herd Health Program, have a valid premise identification (PID), complete age verification of their herd, and compliant with Cattle Producers Marketing Regulations.

The project also supported participation in other industry priority programs and encouraged cross-participation, including herd health, biosecurity, traceability, market access, and data management.

What You Learned

Several key learnings were related to establishing and operating mobile, on-farm preconditioning services throughout the project, from design to scheduling and delivering services.

ActivityDescriptionWhat was Learned
Service Design Determining which services will be offered to farmsDeveloping the list of services that balanced the demands of producers and the ability to deliver certain services with or without the oversight of a veterinarian was more complicated than expected.
Vet Oversight Ensuring that technicians were operating within their training and oversightOur vet advisors were very open to working with us to develop a training program for our technicians and providing primary oversight for required practices.
Equipment Selection Selecting handling equipment, tools, and supplies that ensure safe, efficient, and effective delivery of the servicesThere are several handling equipment manufacturers and models within product lines. Selecting the equipment that would meet our needs and fit within the scope and budget of the project was surprisingly easy. We consulted with farmers and livestock dealers with stationary and portable systems to get their feedback and advice. We also worked with two manufacturers to ensure we had appropriate equipment based on the handling system design.

The most significant learning from equipment selection was that even though several mobile handling units are available on the market, most are not designed to be moved long distances at highway speeds because they don’t have one-piece axels or lights. Hence, they had to be towed with a farm truck at slow-moving speed or placed on a trailer. We decided that the equipment would be transported on a flat-deck trailer between processing locations for efficiency, safety and durability.
TechniciansSelection and training of techniciansSelecting skilled, reliable technicians was essential to the project’s success. The vet advisors helped develop a job description and skillset checklist and a four-hour training session that included animal processing techniques. Our technicians were also required to complete a safe handling course.
Vet Engagement Engagement with vets (outside of advisors)We had support from the Provincial Chief Veterinary Officer to communicate with food animal vets across the province to ensure they were away of the program and the oversight of the technicians.
Producer Engagement Promotion and awareness for farmersWe held five workshops across the province and six online workshops to promote the program directly to producers. We also updated our monthly newsletter regularly and created a short video to promote the project.
Service Coordination Coordinating on-farm service deliveryService coordination was one of the most challenging parts of the project. To reduce costs for producers, we tried to coordinate service delivery within a region, which was a challenge based on their preferred timing. We also so increased demand during pasture turn-out and gather-up times.

What This Means

This project was much more complex than we envisioned, from design to on-farm delivery to ensuring that data was provided back to producers promptly for their management software or Verified Beef Production Plus records. We also looked at the business model for the program in Nova Scotia, including the establishment and operational costs, to determine its viability.

There is strong demand for on-farm preconditioning services for feeder cattle in Nova Scotia; we also had some demand from dairy producers for preconditioning replacement dairy heifers. The two biggest challenges for delivering on-farm precondition services in Nova Scotia are coordinating and scheduling farms and operational costs.

Scheduling was a challenge because of seasonality, short lead times from producers and coordinating with the contracted technicians. Moving forward, we will evaluate online booking and policies related to booking times.
Operational costs for the project were significantly impacted by travel time and expenses. During 2022, a significant fuel cost directly affected travel rates and may have reduced overall demand for the services.