Preconditioning systems and management practices for beef calves – part 1

County Agent’s Corner

Learn about preconditioning systems and how they can add value to the calves you produce and sell. Producers have many marketing options, such as selling calves immediately after weaning, but value can be added by putting calves through a preconditioning program to prepare them for the transition to later stages of production.

Preconditioning typically consists of weaning calves, acclimating calves to feed bunks and water troughs, and upgrading their health status with vaccine and deworming protocols. Preconditioning reduces antibiotic use in beef production and improves the well-being of the cattle produced. Preconditioning programs usually require a minimum of 45 to 60 days and include defined health protocols. With a nutrition plan and marketing strategy, preconditioning programs should result in added weight gain and price premiums when the calves are sold.


An essential part of any cattle management program is a good herd health program. Every cattle operation will have unique vaccination requirements based on individual herd goals and marketing strategies so the following guidelines for vaccinating preconditioned feeder cattle may not be applicable in all situations.

Consulting with a veterinarian is important when designing herd health and vaccination protocols. These guidelines provide a starting point for conversation with a veterinarian to create a program that meets the needs of the farm. Depending on the producer’s marketing strategy, it would be beneficial to check on particular sale requirements.

Preconditioned feeder calves should generally be vaccinated against the following:

• IBR/BVDV/PI3/BRSV respiratory viruses (commonly available in a single vaccine)

• IBR: infectious bovine rhinotracheitis

• BVD: bovine viral diarrhea virus

• PI3: parainfluenza3

• BRSV: bovine respiratory syncytial virus

• 7-way clostridial (blackleg)

• Mannheimia haemolytica (respiratory bacteria)

• Others: Pasteurella mutlocida and Histophilus somni (respiratory bacteria)

It is crucial to properly store and administer vaccines according to FDA-approved label directions, adhere to designated meat withdrawal times, booster primary vaccinations when recommended, and follow all other Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines. Additional best management practices include deworming, castrating, and dehorning cattle when appropriate and desired by buyers. This will add premiums to your calves. Implanting steers and non-replacement heifers with a growth promoting implant efficiently adds weight to the calves during the preconditioning process and improves profitability of this enterprise.

When developing a plan, many producers think about these vaccinations, deworming, or other treatment strategies. However, it is important to remember that management practices that decrease handling and environmental stresses on cattle can also have an impact on herd health.

Next week we will look at the nutritional requirements for beef calves. For more information on this topic and many others, visit the Alabama Extension website at or contact the Blount County Extension Office at 205-274-2129.

Upcoming Extension programs

• Alabama Auxin herbicide trainings will be held virtually at 10 a.m. on April 19 and May 3. Please contact the Extension Office for more details and if you need a face-to-face option.

• Blount County 4-H Pig Squeal Show and Auction will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 24, at the Agribusiness Center. Come out and support the 4-H members by purchasing some pork for your freezer!

• Beef Systems Short Course program: This short course is designed for new and beginning farmers and ranchers. It will cover Fundamentals for the Business of Beef Production in Alabama. This will take place every Tuesday in May, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., in Grant. For more information, please contact Landon Marks at or register online at

• Registration is open for Blount County 4-H Grows summer project for youth ages 9 to 18. Youth will learn general gardening tips and techniques. Contact the office for more info.

• Registration is open for the Blount County 4-H Sweet Potato Challenge for youth ages 9-18. Contact the office for more details.

For information on these or our many other upcoming programs, please like our facebook pages Blount County-Alabama Extension and Blount County 4-H.