A plan to increase preconditioning in cattle country

Have you ever asked a cattle feeder if he had career aspirations of being a veterinarian?

Mark Hilton, of Purdue University, says he has yet to meet one who dreams of spending his days treating cattle.

Mark Hilton small2They hate having sick calves. They want to have healthy calves,” says the veterinarian.

At his Cattlemen’s College session last month, I heard Mark present a pretty convincing case for preconditioning (a 11-year analysis of Indiana producers showed a profit of more than $80 per head, on average for 60+ day programs, for example).

But it wasn’t just about the economics of it all. It was about the principle.

“I’m a low-medicine veterinarian,” he says. “I want to use management instead of medicine and money.”

One of the best ways to ensure health during one of the most stressful times in calves’ lives is to precondition. What’s better for the animals is better for the owners. Less sickness=less labor. It’s better for the next person in line, too.

Mark did a quick poll: “How many of you who sell calves want that feedlot guy to make a pile of money on your calves?” Hands shot up all over the room. Everybody wants their cattle to do well for the next person in line.

Of course, cattle feeders have a role in all this, too.

2011_11_02_mr_Eagle Hills Ranch Tour-23 SMALLWhen you buy preconditioned, high-quality calves you’re telling the beef industry that producers of preconditioned, high-quality calves are your partners. When you’re buying high-risk calves, you’re telling the industry that you’re going to take advantage of somebody,” he says.

Mark introduced a plan to rid the industry of unweaned, co-mingled, high-risk cattle: “Every buyer of feeder calves agrees not to bid on high-risk calves. As the auctioneer goes down and down in price, ‘$2.80, $2, $1.50, 23 cents? Sorry, boys, no takers. Take them back home.’ In 30 days you think that would change the industry?”

That got a lot of chuckles, but the reality is that IS happening in a much slower fashion across the countryside. Take a look at any salebarn study or video auction analysis and it will show the advantages for preconditioned, reputation calves (or the discounts for the opposite).

What side of that equation do you want to be on?

Just something to think about while you’re pondering the year ahead during those late-night calving checks.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,