Preconditioning and Vaccines for Calves on the Ranch | Never Stop Learning

A catch chute used when processing cattle for vaccinations
A catch chute used when processing cattle for vaccinations

It’s Fall in Montana! Which means that the ranchers I work with are increasingly more difficult to get ahold of. Cattle are coming down from summer grazing, calves are being weaned and sold, and Fall working for cows is taking place.

At the risk of sounding stupid to other ranchers in the region, I learned something new over the past few weeks! Just like industries have certain jargon that only they can understand, you’ll find those distinct differences among different regions in the cattle business. So every once in a while I stumble upon a new use of a word that I’m not sure what’s being discussed. It’s kind of like the time I was told to look for the “shredder” in the Texas feedlot, and for the life of me couldn’t figure out they were talking about the brush hog.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing ranchers say they’ll be “preconditioning the calves today” and I’ve been a bit confused. I kinda knew what they had to be talking about, but it didn’t quite fit. So, I finally had to ask.

See, where I come from, “preconditioning calves” is process, which is why it didn’t make sense if the ranchers were doing it in one day. When my family weaned calves, they already had their first round of vaccinations, castrations (for the males), and dehorning when necessary. So “preconditioning” at the time of meaning, meant they went through the two to three week adjustment period to recover from the stress of weaning, adapt to a new diet, and usually wrapped up with booster vaccinations before being turned out to the larger pastures for the “stockering” phase (at least 45 days on pasture prior to going to the feedlot).

From what I’ve gathered so far, when ranchers in Montana refer to “preconditioning” calves, it’s mostly just the act of administering vaccinations in one day, prior to or at the time of weaning which is followed by a “backgrounding” period, which is their adjustment period after weaning.

A few of the common vaccinations for beef cattle include various respiratory diseases, clostridial, bacterial pneumonia, vibriosis, and pinkeye. For breeding age animals – trichomoniasis , Brucellosis, leptospirosis. Read more about cattle diseases and vaccinations from Utah State University in the chart below, or by clicking here.

Table via Utah State University. Read more here.
Table via Utah State University. Read more here.

Same process, just a different set of terminology. Never stop learning!¬†Hopefully, I’ll be able to make it out to a ranch next week and we might see a little preconditioning in action if the stars align just right.

Ryan Goodman works in grassroots advocacy with beef cattle farmers and ranchers across the United States. He is a proud alumnus of Oklahoma State University, with studies focusing on cattle reproduction and nutrition. Ryans
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