The previous article reviewed management practices that would aid in a successful preconditioning program and why weaning and preconditioning should be considered. This article will discuss nutritional issues as well as importance of a well implemented marketing program for producers.

Nutrition is second to none in a successful and profitable preconditioning program and can make up almost 70% of the preconditioning budget. Producer’s main objective should be to optimize health and condition of cattle while increasing gain at lower costs. They should also be cautious to getting cattle too “fleshy” while preconditioning. A “fleshy” calf that is destined to go on to low quality forage after precondition will lose much of the gain that was achieved during preconditioning. Buyers know this and are also not willing to pay for an overly fleshy calf. However, if the calf will be going directly to high quality forage or to a grower yard and maintain a positive energy balance high rate of gain is justified (Lalman et al. 2010).

Recent increases in feed cost make preconditioning more of a challenge to producers. Feed and hay prices coupled with record setting calf prices make it tempting for producers to sell directly off the cow and they are leaving money on the table when they do so. Controlling feed costs by forward contracting, using bi-products or using standing forage such as winter wheat or rye aids in the financial success of any feeding situation. Cattle during preconditioning cannot remain stagnant; they must gain during preconditioning to add value. Value of gain in some instances this fall was hovering around $1.25/lbs, for 450 lbs cattle entering in to a preconditioning program. This number may seem high, however, in this particular example the sale price used was derived from cattle that had been through a verified health program and marketed through the Oklahoma Quality Beef Network (OQBN) on the 17th of November. So marketing plays an enormous roll in enhancing profitability in a preconditioning program.

Marketing cattle as precondition adds premiums for sellers and buyers are willing to pay premiums for a number of reasons. Healthy preconditioned calves have increased average daily gain, lower feed conversions, less days on feed and lower cost of gain. Maybe most important, morbidity is less saving money on antibiotics and death loss will be 2.5-3.5% less (Cravey 1996). Over time a reputation will develop for quality cattle and marketing will become easier with increased premiums for producers. Integrity of the verified program and the record keeping process is paramount to maintain trust and increase confidence of buyers of weaned calves.

It is important to remember several things during weaning and preconditioning. Stress on calves is the major factor in determining health and well-being of a calf. Quality healthy cattle will always perform well during preconditioning and that translates into performance through the grower and feedlot phase of the industry. Control of feed costs, while at the same time adding gain, (which may mean the use of implants and ionophores) will lead to profitability for producers. Decision tools are available online at to help in accessing management decisions with your herd.

Source: Gant Mourer, Oklahoma State University Beef Value Enhancement Specialist