Properly pre-conditioning calves can gives producers a large return on their investment.

Calf pre-conditioning should be a priority for every herd health program. An effective program can be developed to fit most opera­tion and management approaches. For vaccination to be effective, they must stimulate the immune system to create a defense mechanism against important disease pathogens. Vaccines however are only part of management. We cannot overlook nutrition especially mineral/vitamin intake, environment, as well as stress management. Calf health should be addressed with the three legged stool approach.

  • First Leg: have calves gaining 2 pounds per head per day or more up to weaning.
  • Second leg: provided adequate nutritional supplementation focusing on high quality mineral/vitamin supplement that is available to all calves at least 45 days prior to weaning.
  • Third leg: calf management at weaning and after must focus on minimizing stress for the 30-45 day pre-conditioning period. Prevent stacking stressful events such as weaning, castrating, (castration soon after birth is recommended), dehorning, deworming, vaccinating, comingling, changing feed or water source, weather stress, etc. – you get the idea. The more we stack stress, the less likely our pre-conditioning program will be effective.

Several options for pre-conditioning will work. Many will start vaccinating 2-3 weeks prior to weaning and then give booster vaccinations 2 weeks post weaning. Other may choose to vaccinate at weaning and then administer the boosters 3-4 weeks later. I prefer to wean, vaccinate 10-day post weaning and booster 3 weeks after the initial vaccination. This allows weaning to be accomplished without additional stacked stress events and with fence line weaning, everybody sleeps better. Ideally, calves should be weaned for 45 days before they move to market. Produc­ers should consult with their local veterinarian to design a vaccination program that fits their particular operation and marketing plan.

Source: Kevin Gould, Michigan State University Extension