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Preconditioning Beef Calves

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August 1, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about preconditioning beef calves. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Brandi Karisch, Mississippi State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist.

Dr. Karisch, preconditioning is a term that gets used a good bit by cattlemen, but what do you think is the best way to describe or define preconditioning?

Brandi Karisch: Thanks for having me here today to talk about this topic, Amy. I think when we talk about precondition, it's really important to think about what's the ultimate goal about why we precondition cattle. And the ultimate goal is to prepare cattle to thrive in the next stage of life. So those programs ultimately serve to reduce stress from weaning or shipping practices, improve the health of those cattle, all of those things get packaged up neatly into a term that we describe as preconditioning for beef cattle.

Amy Myers: And why is preconditioning your calves important for cattle producers? How can it impact success?

Brandi Karisch: One of the things that's really important is preparing those cattle to thrive, so by helping those cattle develop immunity to some diseases that they might face or be exposed to in the next phase of life, that's something that's really key. And then we're taking those calves during a really stressful time in their lives, so weaning, inherently, we take those cattle from pasture with all of their friends and their Momma that they're used to, and we put them in a brand new environment and expect them to eat out of a feed trough that they've maybe never seen before, or drink out of a water trough that they've never seen before. And we're asking those cattle to do a lot, so by helping them develop immunity by vaccination, and then exposing those cattle to those new things, we're really helping them, prepare them to thrive as they go on and perform well for whoever their next owner might be.

Amy Myers: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. Are there any studies or research to support the fact that preconditioning can lead to economic benefits for cattle producers?

Brandi Karisch: Well, this is something that's been looked at quite a bit by several universities here in the Southeast, and then across the country. We've seen, no matter where we look at it, a local market auction scenario, or selling at a large video auction, calves that are marketed as having been preconditioned through some type of specific program are going to be shown to bring a premium. Those buyers are simply willing to pay more for those calves because we're taking some of the risk away. So if those calves haven't gone through that preconditioning program, they might be more likely to get sick. They might be slower to grow for that next person that's taking care of those calves. By taking away that risk from that buyer, they're willing to give the producer more money.

Amy Myers: And what does a good preconditioning program look like?

Brandi Karisch: One of my favorite things, when I talk about the cattle business, is that there's not a one-size-fits-all program that works for every producer in terms of any type of cattle production. So a good preconditioning program, while it's not one-size-fits-all, should contain several things. Number one is a health component, so we emphasize talking about helping those cattle develop immunity before they're exposed to certain diseases. Bovine respiratory disease is the number one reason why cattle get sick and die as they move on to the next phase of life, so that's one thing that's really important. A nutrition component, so what are those cattle eating? Is it meeting their nutrient requirements? Are they going to want to eat it? Those things are really important. And the last consideration is how that producer is going to reap the benefits. If they do all that work, having a good marketing plan in place for that preconditioning program is something that's really important.

Amy Myers: Is there anything you want to add about this?

Brandi Karisch: One thing I think that's really important is no matter what steps or what parts you include: Working closely with your local veterinarian to include a good health program that fits your cattle is something that's really important, as well as planning in advance, making sure it's tailored to fit your needs and fit your farm, and then step back and wait to reap the benefits.

Amy Myers: And how can we learn more about preconditioning of our beef calves?

Brandi Karisch: Well, we've got several publications available through our Beef Cattle Extension webpage. That's at We've got several publications that producers can look at there, as well as some videos that are being shared through social media as well.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Dr. Brandi Karisch, Beef Cattle Specialist. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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