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Preconditioning Strategies For Drought-Stricken Areas

The U.S. Drought Monitor continues to show the spread of severe and extreme drought into larger areas of cow-calf country. Producers are seeing the effects of more heat, reduced forage quality and dwindling water supplies in the cows and calves.
Three Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. Professional Services Veterinarians share regional insights and recommendations to help producers work through the fall preconditioning challenges.
Northern High Plains
Dr. Travis Van Anne, Senior Professional Services Veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., based in western Nebraska, says at this point calves have experienced severe heat stress and in many cases producers will wean earlier than usual.
“With the lack of feed resources, it may not be possible to do a 45-day wean on calves before they are sold,” says Dr. Van Anne. “However, we can help that calf handle the stress of weaning and immediate transport by making sure the calf is vaccinated and ready for disease challenges.”
Assuming that calves received a clostridial vaccine, like Alpha-7®, at birth, and a modified-live virus vaccine such as Pyramid® 5 + Presponse® SQ, at pasture turn-out, Dr. Van Anne recommends the following preconditioning program this fall:
Mineral: three to four weeks before calves leave the ranch, make sure to offer a chelated or amino acid complex mineral free choice. Poor forage quality leads to lack of micronutrients; the mineral mix helps boost calves immune system.
Vaccination: two to three weeks before calves are sold, give them another round of modified-live virus respiratory vaccine that protects against viral and bacterial causes of bovine respiratory disease. He also recommends a booster to the clostridial vaccine.
Parasite control: while calves are in the chute for vaccinations, don’t forget to use a pour-on deworming product to control internal and external parasites. Dr. Van Anne explains that by reducing the parasite load, calves can have a better immune response to vaccinations.
Dr. Van Anne says while it is tempting to skip vaccinations this fall due to high input costs, he cautions against that management practice.
“Cattle buyers have good memories,” says Dr. Van Anne. “Northern High Plains producers have a reputation of producing high quality, healthy calves that go on to perform in the feedlot. Preconditioning calves with the right animal health products is good for the producer’s image, as well as the industry’s image. We don’t want to risk our reputation for a small cost savings.”
Southern High Plains
Producers in the Southern High Plains are feeling the long-term effects of an extended drought.
“We are experiencing an atypical year,” says Dr. Mac Devin, Senior Professional Services Veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. “We are seeing a lot of immune function issues with calves this year.”
Dr. Devin, based in central Texas, points out that if one counts back seven or eight months ago and looks at the stress those dams were under, that stress is showing up in the calves.
The reduced forage quality and other drought stress affected the amount and quality of colostrum that the cow produced in the last trimester. Past research has shown that calves not receiving an adequate amount of high quality colostrum were more prone to disease challenges, shares Dr. Devin.
At the ranch level, Dr. Devin suggests that producers make sure to have a mineral mix in front of calves prior to vaccination to help the calves’ immune systems respond. “We want to make sure we don’t do anything that could impede the response to vaccination,” says Dr. Devin.
Dr. Devin gives the following recommendations for calves arriving from stressed environments:
Nutrients: ensure that calves have access to fresh water and have adequate intake of feed and energy upon arrival
Handling: don’t add to the stress; make sure to handle cattle quietly and efficiently
Vaccinations: vaccinating calves with a modified-live virus vaccine, like PYRAMID 5 + PRESPONSE SQ that protects against respiratory disease caused by BVD, BRSV, IBR and PI3, as well as Mannheimia haemolytica.
“We do many of these things already, but this year it is really important that we follow through,” concludes Dr. Devin. “We need to recognize that we may have a subset of calves that won’t respond due to stress. We need to watch the calves closely, and follow up with a second dose of modified-live virus vaccine if needed.”
Southeastern States
“We are really dry in the Southeast this year and our grass is really thin,” says Dr. Jody Wade, Senior Professional Services Veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. “In many places, producers are already feeding hay.”
Dr. Wade, who is based in eastern Tennessee, says cattle, both cows and calves, may be nutritionally behind unless producers are supplementing due to short pastures.
“We had some folks take advantage of higher calf prices when they pulled fall-born calves this spring and they skipped preconditioning,” explains Dr. Wade. “Unfortunately, those calves are now really struggling through the production cycle, whether at a stocker level or in a feedyard.”
“If it is at all possible, producers need to precondition their calves this fall,” stresses Dr. Wade.  “Preconditioning sets calves up for success.”
Dr. Wade makes the following recommendations for Southeastern producers preconditioning spring-born calves this fall:
Minerals: the poor forage quality really puts emphasis back on providing the right mineral pack for the herd to provide key micronutrients
Use the right vaccines:  vaccinate to cover the big five viruses—BVD Types 1 & 2, BRSV, PI3, and IBR. It is also crucial to protect against clostridial disease and pasteurella.
Wean 45 days: if you have the ability to wean calves 45 days, it really does provide the healthiest calf for the buyer.
“Sickness and disease challenges in the next steps of the production cycle can be prevented with preconditioning,” says Dr. Wade. “If sickness rates are high for buyers it is bad for everyone, including the cow-calf producer. Reputation is everything in this business and preconditioning helps make a reputation calf.”
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Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. (St. Joseph, MO) is a subsidiary of Boehringer Ingelheim Corporation, based in Ridgefield, CT, and a member of the Boehringer Ingelheim group of companies. 
Alpha-7, Pyramid and Presponse are registered trademarks of Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.
©2012 Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.
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