With feeder calf prices looking anything but bullish this fall, cow-calf producers need to consider minor production adjustments to increase calf value, including following a third-party certified calf preconditioning program. Research has shown a significant difference in premiums paid for calves based on the level of preconditioning claims producers make. An Iowa State University study found that calves marketed with third-party certified preconditioning claims earned $6.15 per hundredweight over calves marketed with no preconditioning claims and earned $2.75 per hundredweight more than calves with uncertified claims.

Dr. Frank Hurtig, director, Merial Veterinary Services, says it’s not too late for producers to capture this potential added value with small tweaks to their current vaccination and weaning protocols.

“Producers can make some simple adjustments, such as changing products, adding a second round of vaccinations, or holding calves for the 45-day weaning period to increase the value of their calves,” he says. “And, by following a preconditioning program that requires veterinarian certification, producers can help add validity to their preconditioning claims, which research shows buyers appreciate.” 

In a recent study, nine out of 10 feedyard managers see a signed veterinary certificate of calf preconditioning as having an advantage over noncertified programs.2

“Credibility plays a big role in cattle buyers’ decision-making. They want to see documentation of how the calves have been handled before sale day,” Dr. Hurtig says.

Producers can increase calf value with third-party preconditioning programs by following a few simple steps:

  • Start by talking to a veterinarian to plan the protocol.
  • Two to four weeks before weaning, treat calves for parasites and vaccinate against viral respiratory infection and clostridial infection.
  • At weaning, revaccinate for viral respiratory infection and clostridial infection, and vaccinate for bacterial respiratory infection.
  • Castrate calves.
  • Dehorn or tip horn buds.
  • Wean calves for 45 days.
  • Make sure calves are adjusted to feedbunks and water tanks.
  • Have local veterinarian certify that the protocols were followed as outlined by the program.

In times of market uncertainty, third-party certification is a way for producers to differentiate their calves from the competition.

“Following a third-party-verified calf preconditioning program might require a few adjustments from producers’ regular weaning routines, but the changes are simple and well worth it,” Dr. Hurtig says.