Preconditioners and Feeders
Both preconditioning and feeder operations have important roles in the successful maturation of a calf. Focusing on maximizing gains and minimizing losses along the way can be difficult. While factors such as weather, genetics, and weaning techniques are out of the hands of preconditioner and feeder operations, the feeding and handling regimens once those cattle are under their care are controllable.
It’s essential to be able to help each calf in either of these types of settings experience the lowest amount of stress possible. Stress is a common issue amongst stocker cattle and can lead to the development of scours and acidosis if not carefully managed.
Preconditioning operations can be one of the toughest areas of cattle production in the industry. The influx of cattle from new, unknown origins can make it difficult to guess what a particular animal’s needs will be once they arrive at the preconditioning facility. Despite the difficulties posed by the preconditioning process, this intermediate stage is highly successful in helping cattle transition from weaning to the feedlot.
A properly run operation will regularly check cattle for signs of stress caused by the recent weaning and transportation they’ve undergone. It will also help isolate them in a manner that makes processing (vaccinating, castrating, dehorning, tagging or branding) easier. At this time, they are also able to transition to eating from feed bunks and drinking from a common water source.
These young cattle can be prone to developing scours and acidosis due to stress from environmental, social and nutritional origins. This can be a costly problem and even result in the total loss of the calf in some cases. It is of paramount importance to get them eating and drinking as soon as possible to avoid these issues. Finding ways to encourage water consumption and neutralize the rumen’s pH will go a very long way toward helping prevent the development of scours and acidosis.
Much like cattle in a preconditioning program, calves that are part of a feeder operation need to have a low-stress environment to thrive. Stress can trigger cortisol, a hormone that can suppress the immune system (making vaccinations less likely to work optimally), suppress the appetite and ultimately lead to acidosis.
The goal of any feeder operation is to see as much gain as possible while a calf is in their lot. Every calorie a calf eats needs to count — calories add up to bigger profits come sale time. To ensure that cattle are utilizing their nutrient intake to the full extent they must have access to clean water and live in a low-stress environment. This ensures a rumen that is functioning at peak levels, meaning that the pH is the 6.5 – 7 range and the gut flora that supports rumination is plentiful and flourishing. This will allow for all of the feedstuffs that are ingested to be broken down and assimilated to the fullest extent.