Preconditioning and process verification by Mario Villarino of AgriLife

The purpose of preconditioning feeder/finisher calves is to minimize morbidity and mortality experienced by calves when moving from their original ranch to beef cattle Production system.

Process verification is a systematic means of capturing and verifying (sometimes by a third party) health prevention and management protocols administered at a well identified group of cattle.

Steers and heifers are preconditioned. Most, if not all, of the current preconditioning protocols specify knife cut steers. Castration of young bulls before the age of 90 days is an industry-accepted beef quality assurance management best practice.

A preconditioning program is based on:– a withdrawal period of at least 45 days– a series of two modified living respiratory complexes (IBR, PI3, BVD, BRSV)vaccinations at 14-21 day intervals. (Preferably, the second vaccination will take place atless than 14 days before the sale.)– a series of two 7-way clostridial vaccines administered according to the same schedule as theviral vaccines mentioned above– a Pastorelle (Pasteurella multocida andMannheimia haemolytica) vaccine administeredduring the first cycle of vaccinations– treatment of internal parasites and external parasites.

(Note: Most preconditioned/process verified feeder cattle sales have consignment identification protocols. Consult the sale host for a specific program terms.)

It is recommended that calves be kept in the pen for at least 3-5 days after weaning. A high quality pre-conditioning ration should be offered twice daily and cooled, fresh, clean water should be available. Arrange the feeders perpendicular to the fence Thus, the calves walking on the fence will find the food.

The remaining 40+ days of the weaning program will likely be the most economical and effective if carried out from a forage base in small pastures, grass traps or improved pastures. Supplementation with cubes, cakes or a mixture of cereal flour may be necessary to reach the desired gain of 1 to 1.5 lbs/day.

[Tip: If possible/feasible, familiarize the calves with the preconditioning feed while they are still with their dams – calves will quickly learn how to eat feed by watching/mimicking their dams.]


1. Determine the market price (break-even point) needed to cover the cost of production. Whether this value is more than 5 to 8 $/cwt higher than the potential value of calves at withdrawal, have a long visit with professional marketing staff before proceeding with a preconditioning program.

Know where and how calves will be marketed BEFORE the preconditioning process begin. Never entrust preconditioned calves to the regular weekly sale of the premises or regional auction market. They are the only preconditioned calves available that day and the marketing system cannot justify the payment of a premium and their separation from calves not preconditioned.

2. Realize that a preconditioning program will not change muscle score or fattening calves. If they are medium sized, muscle score #2 at weaning, they will still be medium frame, #2 muscle cattle on sale day. Fair assessment of the quality of calves is essential in predicting their performance at a sale. Perceptions indicate that, as the quality diminishes, as does the magnitude of the “premium” offered.

3. Sort the calves that “do not fit” and load lots of calves on the day of the sale.

Sell ​​them to weaning. Whether it is color, quality, size, age, condition, weight, layout, phenotype or tail shape, if they don’t match, sort them out. Calves not included in loading batches and therefore sold as individuals at the end of the sale generally sell at a reduced price at their herd mates.

4. Calculate realistically what the preconditioning program will cost.

Vaccines + anthelmintic = a minimum of $12-20 per head (essentially, a fixed cost).

If you accept the minimum cost of the preventive health program above AND wish to keep the total cost per head of the program (before cost of grazing, interest, labor, capital equipment, depreciation, etc.) at $25 or less, you can’t spend more than $15-19 per head on pasture, hay, supplement and/or forage. This is equivalent to spending less than 35¢ per head per day.

To put this into perspective, if an extra (hay fee not included) is fed for 45 days and costs $300/ton, maximum daily allowance per head is 3.0 lbs. Realistically, $15-20 per head is the minimum a breeder can expect to invest in feed or supplement. On a 500 # calf is an investment of 3 to 5 $ / quintal (without taking into account the gain after weaning).

Accurately assess the magnitude of potential bonuses. Market prices for feeder calves influence the “premiums” that can be paid for preconditioned and process verified calves.

5. Assess potential pitfalls.

Hourly– The minimum acceptable withdrawal period is 45 days. Research indicates longer preconditioning periods are not necessarily more efficient. Potential buyers come to the sale expecting a 45 day withdrawal period and not being ready to pay additional bonuses for longer weaning programs. 46+ days cost extra dollars and increase the risk of accidental death. Therefore, plan your program as close to 45 days as possible.

Precaution: Long weaning periods have the potential to transition weaned calves to a ‘yearling’ (>600 lbs) market. There is very little (if any) demand for preconditioned yearlings.

Disease – Calves weaned and raised on the ranch where they were born rarely experience health problems. However, should an illness occur, the supplement drug costs and reduced performance could easily consume all potential bonuses the day of the sale. Unexpected deaths from neck fracture, suffocation, strangulation, bloating, enterotoxemia, etc. can quickly eliminate the profitability of a preconditioning program. The facilities (corrals, enclosures) must be in good working order BEFORE starting a preconditioning program.

Nutrition program – Often the highest cost, but offers the greatest opportunity. More producers will tend to overspend on feed, hay and supplements. The goal of gain over that 45 day period is 1.5 lbs per day. Few growers can achieve this gain on grass alone – so supplementation is usually warranted. Contact an extension specialist or beef cattle nutritionist for assistance in developing a nutrition program.

General Nutrition Observations:– hay is expensive in relation to its efficiency of use and the performance (gain) it given– confinement feeding on the ranch is rarely an economically feasible option, unless the cost of gain can parallel current feedlot economics.– calf performance on Bermuda grass alone in late summer or fall is generally less than expected. The average daily gains of calves weaned during this period often be 0.40 to 0.75 lbs/day.– forage quality is a primary concern – nutrient requirements based on body weight are high over their lifetime. Again, if calves are expected average gain of 1.5 lbs per day for 45 days, supplementation will likely beobligatory.

Freight – If the host commission firm is not your traditional market or is much further afield, carefully assess transportation costs. Commissioner the staff can be of great help. Freight rates are cheaper ($/head transported) for trucks than a pickup truck and a trailer. Most cattle trucks have a load of 45,000-50,000 lbs. payload; pooling calves with a nearby producer could fill a load and reduce freight costs.

Shrink – Bottom calves generally show less shrinkage than freshly weaned calves. Nevertheless, predict what this decrease will be and include it in your calculations. (Index: Breeders who always sold at weaning and never weighed a calf on the ranch may not understand the impact of shrinkage.) Check with the host commission companyto understand how they will handle shrinkage.

Genre – Heavy commission sorting can result in too many calves sold individually, usually at a discount to the price of the loading bundle. Discuss your calves and sorting procedure with the staff of the hospitality commission company. Market slippage – If the market is expected to fall during the 45 day precondition period, proceed with caution. Even small market declines of $2-4/cwt, when added to the investment of $5 or more per quintal in the post-weaning program can become major profit thieves.

6. Capitalize on the benefits!These benefits include:

– sale in large groups (lots of truck loads) of similar nature, weight, condition and quality. It is well accepted that calves sold in groups command a premium over those same calves if sold individually.

– build a reputation. Livestock buyers know where the good and they come back for them time and time again. What a pleasure to have someone ask for your calves. What a change to drop ’em off and hope someone pay top dollar…

– benefit from sorting. Several sales of mixed preconditioned feeder calves are available in Texas where ranchers can ship cattle “smaller than load lots” that adhere to the host’s management protocol. If variation within the offer would prevent them from being marketed as a group and then sold through a mixed selling allows a small number of individual shippers to sell for one load lot prices.

– produce a better product. Preconditioned and process verified calves are less risk to the supply or storage operator. Calves that never get sick perform better in feedlot, are more likely to reach their quality grade potential and, more importantly, are more likely to produce a positive food experience for the beef consumer.

One of the best known and oldest prepackaged sales in the United States of America is the Northeast Texas Beef Improvement Organization. Contact the Sulfur Springs Livestock Commission in Sulfur Springs, Texas for details or visit their website for more information.

For more information on this or any other agricultural topic, please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 or email me at [email protected]


Training in the field of the Dairy Outreach program: October 26, 2022 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Southwest Dairy Museum. $10. Register by calling 903-885.3443.

Private pesticide applicator CEU: November 2, 2022 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Regional Civic Center. $30. Register by calling 903-885-3443.

Contributed by Mario Villarino