Preconditioning systems and management practices for beef calves – part 2

County Agent’s Corner

A good nutritional program supports the growth and performance of calves during the preconditioning period. During this time, calves undergo the transition from a forage and milk-based diet to a forage and concentrate-based diet.

Training calves to use a feed bunk or watering trough should also be accomplished during the preconditioning period. Training can be accelerated by placing feed bunks with high-quality palatable hay top-dressed with supplement perpendicular to fence lines so that calves can easily find feed when they walk the fence. Calves should have between 1.5 to 2 feet of bunk space per head to prevent crowding.

Water troughs should be clean, highly visible, and accessible. Small watering troughs may be more attractive to weaned calves because they can hear it being refilled quickly and the water supply may turn over more quickly in small troughs, keeping the water clean and cool.

Rations for weaned calves can vary and may consist of grazed/conserved forages with or without supplemental feed. Collecting weights at weaning can help producers estimate weight gain goals during the preconditioning period and better formulate a suitable nutrition plan.

It is important to have realistic expectations for weight gain during this time period. Weaned calves often lose weight during the first week post weaning due to the stress of the weaning process and acclimation of the rumen microbes to a new diet, but will slowly begin to regain weight within a two- to three-week period.

Conduct a forage analysis to determine the type and level of additional feed supplementation needed to reach projected weight gain goals during the backgrounding period. Calves receiving supplemental feed should undergo an appropriate acclimation period to maintain proper rumen health.

Begin by providing 0.5 percent body weight in feed and increase to the needed amount by two to three pounds every three days. Calves should also have free-choice access to grazed or conserved forage to support rumen health. Provide access to a free-choice mineral or mix mineral into feed supplements to help meet micronutrient requirements and provide more consistent mineral delivery in the diet.

Nutrition plans should also be economically feasible to create value by cost-effectively adding weight to calves. Careful consideration should be taken to evaluate the weight gain goals, time constraints of the producer, forage quality, and feed options.

The best way to evaluate the economic feasibility of feed programs is by considering the cost of gain versus the value of gain. Cost of gain is calculated by dividing the total cost by the pounds gained. Value of gain must take into account the different prices normally associated with different cattle weights, and in the case of preconditioning must consider any added premiums obtained. If the value of gain is less than the cost of gain, serious consideration should be given to alternative feeding options.

Next week we will look at the marketing options for your 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

• 2021 Alabama Auxin herbicide training will be held virtually Monday, May 3, at 10 a.m. 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 is Saturday, April 24, at 10 a.m., 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. Course is held 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 Sweet Potato Challenge and Blount County 4-H Grows project (youth will learn general gardening tips and techniques) for youth ages 9-18. Contact the office for more information.

For information on many other upcoming programs, please like our facebook page “Blount County-Alabama Extension” and “Blount County 4-H.”