ORANGE CITY, Iowa — Preconditioning involves medical and management protocols that cow-calf producers can implement to add to calf weight and increase sale premiums. But, does preconditioning benefit the feedlot producer who purchases and feeds these calves?

The short answer is “yes.” Preconditioned calves may cost more at sale time, but the added performance is worth the cost.

Research at JBS Five Rivers feedlots indicated that cattle preconditioned for 45 days prior to feedlot entry experienced one-third the morbidity and one-half the mortality compared with calves that were not preconditioned. Preconditioned calves also gained .3 more pounds per day compared with calves not preconditioned.

Preconditioning is a sound practice. Vaccination, deworming and balanced nutrition will increase the level of disease resistance in the calf. Weaning, castration, dehorning and training the calf to eat feed from a bunk are designed to reduce the impact of stress during the shipping and receiving period in the feedlot.

However, when disease exposure is combined with extremely stressful conditions (transportation, inclement weather, commingling or new feed/water), the disease challenge may override the calf’s capacity for disease resistance. In short, the fact that cattle have been preconditioned does not guarantee they will not get sick. This is why it is critical for feedlot producers to carefully manage new feeder cattle and pay attention to the details.

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The preconditioned program in Iowa has a long history, but there are several important changes. There is a new certificate that should be used beginning July 1, 2021 and continuing through June 30, 2023. The Gold Tag program will now require two doses of modified live viral vaccines for BVD, IBR, PI-3 and BRSV. And, the weaning interval for a Gold Tag calf was extended from 45 to 60 days.

The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association (ICA) will co-sponsor Preconditioned Feeder Cattle Sales at Sheldon Livestock beginning at noon Dec. 3, Jan. 7 and Feb. 18. ICA will also co-sponsor Preconditioned Feeder Cattle Sales at Spencer Livestock Sales starting at noon on Dec. 15, Jan. 5, Jan. 19 and Feb. 16.

Consignors must have or purchase a 2022 membership in order to sell calves in these sales.

More information about the Iowa Preconditioning Program is available online from the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association at