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West: Preconditioning weaned calves

Ryan D. Rhoades for Progressive Cattle Published on 23 August 2019

The summer heat is quickly fading, which means fall time and weaning are just around the corner. Transitioning newly weaned or received cattle can present a number of challenges. Good management during the preconditioning phase is key to long-term health and performance of calves.

Therefore, producers should consider the management challenges that lead to preconditioning wrecks (i.e., new environment, handling stress and nutritional change) and design a system to mitigate these problems. Implementing a few low-stress management practices can help ensure a smooth transition. Since preconditioning management is so critical to our bottom line, here are a couple of considerations to help set us up for success.

1. Consider the new environment

Limiting the stress involved with new surroundings can assist in maintaining health status and be quite simple. It can start with providing an environment similar to where calves were previous to weaning. Perhaps this means continuing to graze on pasture. Make water very accessible and easy to locate. Calves may not initially recognize a new water source. Deliver a consistent ration at the same time every day to establish a routine. Most importantly, develop a protocol that fits your system to better prepare for transitioning newly weaned or incoming calves.

2. Consider the handling stress

Mitigate any unneeded handling stress during this transition period. Avoid commingling different sets of cattle initially. Also, consider delaying processing (i.e., administering implants, vaccines, etc.) until calves have settled a few days. Consider walking through calves a few times a day for the first two to three weeks of the transition period. It is important to recognize sick calves early and treat them immediately. Always utilize low-stress handling practices and proper working facilities.

3. Consider the nutritional change

An effective preconditioning program should encourage calves to consume feed right away. Calves will likely experience low feed and water intake for several days. Start by providing access to good-quality forage to maintain proper rumen function. Make certain protein requirements are met to stimulate intake and improve immune system development. Consider providing the mixed ration at less than 0.75% of bodyweight (BW) (dry matter basis) initially and progressively increase to 2.5% of BW within two to four weeks. Also, supply a complete mineral (macro and trace minerals – Ca, P, K, Cu, Zn and Se) supplement. The goal of ensuring a smooth transition is the common link among each consideration. Preconditioning success requires preparation. However, healthier calves lead to increased productivity and profitability.  end mark

Ryan D. Rhoades
  • Ryan D. Rhoades

  • Assistant Professor
  • Beef Extension Specialist - Colorado State University
  • Email Ryan D. Rhoades

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