Photo by Laura Mushrush Record-setting cattle prices, a projected bumper grain crop on the horizon, moderation in grain prices — for cattle producers, the opportunity to fully maximize profits has finally arrived.
“In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen a more perfect storm brewing for huge profitably,” says director of MFA Health Track operations Mike John. “With the cattle supply shortage combined with the feed-cost situation, I think we’ve got a real opportunity to add to our bottom line, building equity in our operations without having to invest in anymore overhead.”
For cow-calf producers, a simple preconditioning program can yield substantial returns on their investment. While there are multiple programs producers can choose to fit their program, building immunity in a calf before it is weaned is essential. According to John, taking care of booster vaccinations, castrations, dehorning and similar practices while the calf is still on the cow greatly reduces stress inflicted on the calf.
“Giving rounds of vaccinations when calves are still on the cow drastically reduces the stress they’re under when you’re trying to build their immunity before weaning. Also, teaching them to eat from a bunk and drink from a water tank is important,” John says. “When it’s time to wean the calves, it will be an incredibly painless operation since they already know how to eat from a bunk, and they’re less likely to get sick.”
With 25 years of experience under his belt in preconditioning programs, John has seen a vast array of tactics used in different environments. According to him, producers who take care of all vaccinations prior to weaning on the home ranch before selling the calf bring an optimal calf to the market — typically with a sickness pull rate of around 0.3 percent.
On the other end of the scale, producers who don’t start the vaccination process until the day of weaning are choosing the most stressful point in a calf’s life to start building its immunity and can expect to see a 5 percent sick rate post weaning.
“Both of those strategies, however, drastically reduce health problems when compared to the normal process of pulling a bunch of naive calves together and trying to keep them healthy when they’re weaned. I’ve seen 20 to 30 percent pull rates in that scenario and 5 percent death loss,” he says. “This is typically people who buy bawling calves from a bunch of different sources and put them together. Those are very costly processes to build a group of feeder cattle.”