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Tough Spring Calving Conditions Emphasize Importance of Preconditioning

While most of us are still trying to forget the misery of last spring’s calving season, its effects are still lingering and may still impact your calves this fall. Because of this, preconditioning shots may be more valuable than ever in protecting calves as we move toward weaning.

Many calves experienced a less than ideal start to their life last spring, with many experiencing poor colostrum intake, damaged lungs from the extreme cold, and illness from increased crowding and stress. Many cows were in poorer body condition than normal going into calving, so colostrum quality may have been reduced in some cases, and some calves were in the hot box for the first several hours of their life, so colostrum intake may have been delayed, which results in lower absorption of colostral antibodies. Lung damage resulting from the cold and/or baby calf pneumonia, also lowers a calf’s ability to fight disease later in life.

Poor colostral immunity and prior lung damage are a good recipe for trouble at weaning, with the results not only being increased incidence of illness (morbidity), but also increased chance of that illness being fatal (mortality). The best way to minimize problems associated with these things is to increase immunity through proper vaccinations.One of the best ways to create high levels of immunity, is to vaccinate calves while they are still nursing the cow (preconditioning). This allows calves to develop immunity to vaccines while nursing mom, with the vaccinations being the only change or stress in their life. Calves that are weaned without shots have to try to develop immunity to vaccine, while adjusting to life without mom, learning to eat from a bunk, being commingled with other cattle, having increased disease exposure, and in many cases, dealing with wild temperature swings and weather extremes.

Preconditioning should ideally occur 2-6 weeks before the intended weaning date, allowing the calves to develop immunity to common diseases prior to exposure. It is not 100% effective at preventing disease, but it does help reduce sickness, and if a preconditioned calf does get sick, it typically responds to treatment more quickly and completely. Even if you typically sell calves off of the cow, preconditioning can help differentiate your calves from others and make them bring more money, and it is the right thing to do for the cattle. If you wean your calves and grow them, it is still a great thing to do, because feeding cattle is a lot more fun than treating cattle, and better health and increased calf performance are sure ways to increase profitability.

As always, if you have questions or would like to set up a time to precondition your calves, give us a call.

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