At the Range Beef Cow Symposium held during 2013 in Rapid City, Tom Brink stated in his presentation, “The essence of successful cattle production is to create a highly valuable calf crop, and then go tell people about it.” Much of the work in creating valuable calves is already done, now comes the time to put in the final steps to prepare those calves for the next step in the chain and to capture as much value as possible.

In the simplest terms, feedyards want three things from the cattle that they buy. They want calves that stay healthy. They want calves that gain quickly and efficiently with the ability to hang up a carcass as close to the upper weight limit as possible. And they want calves that can capture carcass premiums on the rail, or at least avoid major discounts.

Vaccination & Nutrition

Although the genetic decisions that influence performance and carcass merit are already in place, ranchers can affect calf performance the management practices used on the ranch. A key place to start is with a solid vaccination protocol on the ranch. There are a number of different protocols in the industry with slightly different specifications, but these recommendations are a good place to start:

  • Clostridial vaccination – two doses
  • Five-way viral (IBR, PI3, BRSV, and BVD Types I & II), preferably boosted
  • Pasteurella Haemolytica and/or Pasteurella Multicida
  • Internal and external parasite control

Just because the calves are vaccinated does not mean that they are immune to those diseases. Vaccines need to be handled properly to be effective, which can be challenging during late summer and early fall. Experts recommend treating the vaccines like your favorite beverage; cool, out of the sun, and prepared just before use.

Calves need the right nutrition to support immune function. Vaccines given to calves under nutritional stress will likely be disappointing. Ranchers should make sure that the herd is meeting their nutritional requirements, including adequate levels of mineral s and vitamins.

Pre-Conditioning Calves

Some producers elect to pre-condition calves on the home ranch. That decision should be based on whether or not the necessary resources are in place and if the expected returns are greater than the anticipated costs.

One of the major benefits to pre-conditioning calves is that cattle adapt to life in the feedyard, including getting bunk broke and adapting to new social structures without the cow. Another benefit would be accustoming cattle to handling. Whether calves are retained or not, using “low impact” handling practices help adapt cattle to being worked and reduce the performance losses associated with stress.

Marketing Considerations

Finally, ranchers should think in terms of marketing calves as opposed to merely selling them in town. Communicating clearly with sale managers, order buyers, and feedlot managers exactly what management practices went in to a set of calves helps find the buyers looking for particular attributes. The more information provided the greater chances that the right buyer will find the cattle and consequently reward the owners.