|Dan Goehl, DVM
As fall approaches, many cow–calf producers start to think of reaping the rewards of a year's worth of hard work. It has become more apparent that there is value in preconditioning calves before marketing.
Producers often gain a significant premium for calves that have been vaccinated, weaned, castrated, etc. If done properly, preconditioning not only gives you an added financial gain for the calf crop but also is beneficial for your entire operation.
When selling your calves, it is important to validate the vaccines they have received. At the livestock market, there is an all-too-common joke of the calf that has "had its shots.”
A complete vaccination includes the four basic viruses that cause bovine respiratory disease (BVD, IBR, BRSV and PI3), a clostridial vaccine and, in most instances, a pasteurella vaccine. Vaccination requirements are not clear-cut from program to program, but these are the components of most preconditioning programs that are available. By preparing documentation that validates that the animals have had proper immunization and a weaning date at least 30 days prior to sale, the price received can be improved.
It is also beneficial to collect data on calves after they leave the farm. This data can give you a better idea of the product you are supplying and how to improve your cattle herd. When possible, follow calves all the way until harvest to obtain performance data (rate of gain and feed conversions) as well as carcass data (yield and quality grades).
Once measured, these characteristics can be managed through genetic and/or management changes. This can be difficult for producers who don't have enough calves to market animals in large groups; some producers in this situation have pooled calves with each other to form sale groups.
I have worked with Missouri Verified Beef (MVB) for several years, helping producers sell animals collectively and then analyze the carcass data. Through the MVB program, cow–calf producers in Missouri have the option of becoming more involved in the marketing and feeding of their calves, while gaining valuable information from the feedlots to help them produce better calves.
Under the program, producers wean their calves at home; then the calves from all participants are sent to one backgrounder. All calves must be immunized and verified by the local veterinarian prior to commingling. Calves are backgrounded for a period of 45 to 70 days, then marketed directly to a feedlot in 50,000-lb. lots.
Not only can producers market their calves for more money in a large group, but the program is also designed to return individual animal performance and carcass data. This information can be interpreted to make decisions to improve farm profitability and increase the farm's marketing power. Programs like this are not for everybody, but they offer the moderate-sized or small producer an opportunity to get information back and take advantage of the economy of scale.
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DAN GOEHL, DVM, and his wife own Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, Mo., working with stocker and cow–calf beef operations. He is also a partner in the management and marketing of beef cattle. E-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.