In Oklahoma, fall is weaning time for producers who own spring calving herds. Markets look favorable for the coming season, but there are programs that have historically offered a premium for calves even in times of high prices.

There are many preconditioning options available for producers; however, a program with a proven track record is the Oklahoma Beef Quality Network (OBQN).

OQBN and other preconditioning programs have been designed to aid producers in making preconditioning decisions and capturing value of preconditioned calves at market. One way this is done is through the OQBn Vac-45 verification program. Cattle meeting the management and vaccination requirements are verified by Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service personnel and can be marketed as OQBN Vac-45 cattle.

Once verified, producers have the option but are not obligated to market cattle in a certified OQBN sale.

The OQBN Vac-45 program and other preconditioning programs benefit both buyers and sellers in several ways, including reduced shrink, stronger immunity and improved weight gain during the weaning and preconditioning period. In 2018, OQBN participants realized a $12.89/cwt premium over cattle that had no weaning or health history. Buyers offset purchase prices by having very low death loss and excellent feed conversion right off the bat.

Some producers may be apprehensive about preconditioning; however, the use of a proper vaccination protocol and the development of a basic management plan can provide healthy preconditioned calves that are more valuable at sale time.

When the decision is made to precondition cattle, producers should evaluate their feed options. What feed or grain is on hand? What is the nutritional value of the hay source? By determining feed resources and their feeding value, a basic preconditioning ration easily can be formulated by a nutritionist or OSU Extension educator.

According to these factors, producers should then set a target weight goal for the calves. Producers must be cautious as to not over-condition cattle that are destined for feeding environments with a low plane of nutrition such as stockpiled dry winter range or hay. In these situations, high-energy diets during preconditioning will hinder future performance due to the extreme difference in nutrition.

A minimum 45-day preconditioning period is required by OQBN; however, some producers feel that 60 or 75 days work better for their operation. Rations can be adjusted nutritionally to allow for increased days on feed, in turn avoiding over-conditioning situations.

Finally, make sure that the preconditioning program is set in a way that requires minimal labor and equipment input. Preconditioning is an investment in risk management; however, the intention is not to accrue costs that offset premiums at sale time.

Whether cattle are headed to the feed yard or staying on the operation for winter grazing, preconditioning management paired with a full course of preconditioning vaccines will provide the producer with risk management need to boost returns on the 2019 fall calf crop. Contact your local OSU Extension educator for information about the OQBN program or questions about creating a preconditioning program for calves this fall.

Zook is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service northwest area livestock specialist.

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