Improving Herd Health and Profitability Through Vaccination and Preconditioning Programs

Project Title

Nova Scotia On-Farm Cattle Preconditioning Pilot Project

Researchers

Brad McCallum – Nova Scotia Cattle Producers bmccallum@agricommodity.ca

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
In progress. Results expected in December, 2022 KTT.05.21

Background

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.

Objectives

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 will do

This project will focus on awareness and education related to 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 will include the purchase of mobile handling equipment, weighing equipment, and animal health equipment and supplies. A technician will be trained and retained to provide services on-farm.

Workshops for potential participants will be developed and delivered to raise awareness of the benefits of preconditioning. Webinars will be hosted with regional veterinarians highlighting whole-herd vaccination programs and feeder calf preconditioning. Information will also be 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 will require 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 be compliant with Cattle Producers Marketing Regulations.  

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

Implications

This project will make the implementation of vaccination and pre-conditioning programs more achievable and feasible for Nova Scotia producers by encouraging them to work with their veterinarian to develop programs and assist in delivering it on farm using trained technicians. These efforts will improve cattle herd health in the province leading to positives outcomes across the entire industry.

Two key findings to this project that can and will be important and shared with producers across Canada include determining a baseline cost of establishment and operation of a custom cattle precondition and processing service and determining the value of certified processed feeder cattle and brood cows.