Flexibility. It's one little word that can mean so much when you're marketing your cattle.
Preconditioning calves prior to marketing can not only help deliver that flexibility you might be looking for, but also added premiums at sale time.
According to Gant Mourer, Oklahoma State University beef value enhancement specialist, preconditioning helps cattle be more prepared to perform whether retained for grass, wheat pasture, in the feedlot or even marketing after weaning.
"Preconditioning feeder cattle is really a partnership between the buyer and the seller," Mourer says. "Both benefit. When producers use a low-stress preconditioning system at the ranch, they increase overall efficiency and performance of those calves once they leave."
Kentucky Department of Agriculture Beef Marketing Specialist Tim Dietrich agrees. "From the sellers' perspective, often they only look at what the cattle sold for at sale time, but another significant benefit is the low-cost gain that is put on them during the preconditioning period, which increases the pounds they have to sell."
From the buyer standpoint, Dietrich says preconditioning delivers a bunk-broke calf with a stronger immune system.
While value of gain during the preconditioning period is often overlooked, it remains one of the big pieces of the puzzle.
Value of gain increases profitability while those calves are on the ranch, reduces shrink at livestock markets and helps calves continue to gain once they reach pastures or feedlots, Mourer says.
The basics of preconditioning are centered on weaning a calf for a minimum of 45 days, getting it accustomed to eating from a bunk and drinking from a trough, and then vaccinating it against respiratory diseases, Pasteurella and blackleg. Dewormer is administered and booster vaccinations are also given; the respiratory vaccine, at the very least, must be modified live.
While marketing can throw curve balls at producers from time to time, Mourer says the low-cost gain put on the calves during preconditioning is beneficial since they are selling pounds.
"There is value in numbers, and that is possibly the greatest benefit to our program," Dietrich says of Kentucky's Certified Pre-Conditioned for Health Program (CPH-45). "Our CPH-45 program has done a great deal to educate producers on the value of preparing their calves for the next phase of their lives and also [has created] value for them as sellers as well as buyers."
In Oklahoma, cattlemen participating in the state's Quality Beef Network (OQBN) Vac-45 program realized a $100 per head increase in value during the fall of 2015, which was a down market.
"Premiums alone in 2015 averaged $11.18 for OQBN calves, the second highest premium we have recorded," Mourer said.