Making sure calves are bunk broke and water tank broke before they head to the feedyard is one of the best ways to ensure a smoother transition. Will there come a day when preconditioning of beef calves becomes the requirement for them to move on through the marketing system to feedlots? Dan Thomson, DVM, PhD, Beef Cattle Institute, Kansas State University, believes it could happen. And believes maybe it should.
Preconditioning beef calves is more than just the programs done at a certain age. “When I think about preconditioning, I think about a lot of the issues that we are facing in the beef industry,” Thomson says. “I think about the difference in antibiotic usage between highrisk and low-risk cattle in feedyards. We keep facing issues on animal welfare such as castration, dehorning, pregnant heifers and health issues on a day to day basis. When we take calves and properly prepare them at the ranch for our marketing system and feedyard transfer, we take them from a high health-risk animal to a low health-risk animal at the feedlot which is an animal health and well-being game changer. It should be common sense.”
More secrutiny is being placed on the welfare of beef cattle by animal rights groups, and it behooves the industry to start examining some of its management procedures before forces outside the industry dictate how cattle are raised. “In the beef industry, animal welfare is an issue that we need to talk about, whether it’s guaranteed open heifers going into the feedyards, early castration, disbudding instead of dehorning, and acclimating calves to bunks/water tanks before they go to feedyard,” Thomson explains. “It all goes back to decreasing stress through proper calf management on the ranch and improving animal well-being through improving animal health. These practices will also improve predictability of performance and profitability.”
Thomson believes that all preconditioning programs need to be verified along with a system that identifies and follows each calf through the beef industry to slaughter. “The question is at the end of the day do we have a system that assures the packer and their customers that the animals have gone through the preconditioning program? We used to have preconditioning sales for properly managed calves. Now we are even seeing Beef Quality Assurance/preconditioning sales. In the future, will BQA/preconditioning sales become the norm in the beef industry and the sale of cattle not prepared will be the ones off the beaten track?”