Hunter talks preconditioning during Brush, Colo., Livestock Exchange Anniversary open house |

Hunter talks preconditioning during Brush, Colo., Livestock Exchange Anniversary open house

Ranchers discuss the merits of a Swift Built stock trailer that was on display during the open house during the Brush Livestock Exchange Anniversary open house.
Photo by Teresa Clark

Most producers who precondition their calves either want to make more money or keep the calf alive. Randy Hunter, DVM – VRCS, manages a feedyard of stocker cattle and shared with the public the importance of preconditioning during the Livestock Exchange 50th/5th Anniversary open house in Brush, Colo.

“When ranchers precondition their calves, they are concentrating on making their calves a better product to buy,” he said. Hunter recommended weaning calves for at least 45 days to get the best results.

“Weaned means something different to everyone,” he said, noting that weaning is not removing a calf from its mother, placing it on a truck, and hauling it 12 hours from California to a Nebraska feedlot. Factors like timing, stressers, nutrition and cattle handling are all important when weaning and preconditioning calves, he said.

Hunter explained the importance of a nutritional program and a good nutritionist. “No veterinarian can fix what a poor nutritionist can wreck,” he said. “If calves are overfed in the feedyard, you can’t vaccinate for stupidity.”

A good mineral program with copper, zinc, cobalt and selenium are also an important part of the diet. “If you are limit-feeding calves, make sure they have 18-22 inches of bunk space per calf. Do not overcrowd them. If there isn’t enough bunk space, you need to pull calves until you get to the right amount,” he said.

Pen checking is critical. “No drug will overcome late pulls,” Hunter said. “If you don’t get cattle to a drug in time, it doesn’t do any good to pull them.”

Producers should also have a treatment protocol in place, and an organized drug rotation. Body temperature plays a key role in determining at what point calves should receive treatment. “A calf can’t maintain a high temperature for very long. When it comes down to it, the calf will either recover or be at room temperature,” he said. He recommended carrying a thermometer and doctoring calves that have a temperature above the normal range. “If you can keep morbidity under control, you can reduce mortality. What is important is determining a low cost way to treat these animals,” he said.

In a low risk rotation, Hunter recommended beginning with a product like Biomycin 200. “Let the product have one to two days to work, and then critically evaluate your success. I like to use Biomycin to lead-off because it’s cheap. We use it on 75 to 80 percent of our calves as a lead-off. When calves were $600 for a 500-pound calf, we used Biomycin 90 percent of the time,” he said. “It is important to remember the drugs need a chance to work. Also, have a system in place of marking the calves that have been treated so every one knows what is being done.”

Hunter told producers that keeping the sick pen clean is also important. “We like to treat their sickness and send them home to let them be in their own surroundings. If we put them in a sick pen, it forces them to fight their illness while trying to get used to a new social group,” he explained.

Hunter also encouraged producers to make a habit of holding a weekly meeting with employees, even if its just on the tailgate of the pickup. “I have found that most people don’t listen very well to what their hired men have to say. It is important to listen to them, and ask them questions. It gives them direction, and the ability to make a difference. We all need to do our part to help kids become smarter so that they can make a difference. Don’t be afraid to educate them and share your knowledge with them,” he said.


Nephi Harvey of Fort Supply Technologies discussed technology and how to use it to monitor, track and manage health and production. Harvey showed producers the different types of identification tags, and how electronic tags can be analyzed using handheld and permanently mounted sensors. “We tag animals for marketing, importing and exporting, and to meet state and federal regulations,” Harvey said.

The round button tags that are brite or metal are becoming less popular as producers opt for LF or EID tags or UHF long-range tags. Auction markets use electronic back tags. Harvey said many different types of tags are available, but its being federally proposed that one type of EID tag will be chosen and standardized as the official ID tag by 2023. “Many of the state veterinarians were pushing to move this decision forward to possibly 2019, but I doubt it will happen that soon,” he told producers.

Current federal-interstate movement of sexually intact animals over 18 months must have an official ID or CVI if they are moving across state lines, he said.

During the event, Dave Link with Multimin discussed injectable trace minerals, Nutritionist Jeremiah Sperfslage discussed feeding to boost health and profit of backgrounded calves, and Paul Chard discussed how to prepare calves for weaning. Craig Kerbs talked about animal competition, the silent thief. ❖

— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at

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