Feeder calf buyers want preconditioned calves

A survey of buyers at the October 2012 West Branch Feeder Calf Sale shows that buyers value weaned and vaccinated calves.

The West Branch Feeder Calf Sale was held in October and according to sale organizers, was highly successful. A survey of buyers was conducted by Michigan State University Extension educator Phil Durst at this sale to learn more about what they are interested in and willing to pay for. Thirty surveys were completed and returned from approximately 45 buyers.

The West Branch Feeder Calf Sale is known for its preconditioned calves. All calves sold must be weaned at least 30 days and be double-vaccinated with a program determined by the sale board. For the 2012 sale, vaccination requirements were for IBR, BVD, PI3, BRSV, Haemophilus somnus, Pasteurella multocida and a seven-way clostridial.

Specific vaccine options are set and at least one of the vaccines must be a modified-live vaccine. Sellers may exceed these requirements such as with parasite control, however, the double vaccination two to eight weeks prior to sale with uniform vaccines is required. Sellers operate by an honor system because there is no third-party verification system in place.

Informal conversations with buyers had indicated that the vaccination protocol was important, but how important? A 2011 Kansas State University study, publication MF3017 entitled Value of Preconditioned Certified Health Programs to Feedlots, reported the results of a survey of feedlot owners across the U.S. These operators indicated that cattle having identified health programs before entering the feedlot are likely to have lower morbidity and mortality, better feed efficiency and better daily gains. This report also suggested that for cattle listed as vaccinated against respiratory (viral and bacterial) and clostridial diseases, treated for internal and external parasites and weaned at least 30 days, buyers were willing to pay a premium of $7.28 per hundredweight.

In order to determining the preferences and experience of West Branch Feeder Calf Sale buyers, buyers were asked an open-ended question of how long they want calves weaned prior to purchasing them. They were not provided with multiple choice answers that would have potentially biased their answers. Eighty percent responded with a preferred weaned period. Of those, the responses were split approximately into equal groups of thirds for 30 days, less than 30 days, and more than 30 days.

Clearly that is a split decision. The sale currently requires at least a 30-day weaning period. Sellers post information about the cattle by pen on the pen gate. Often that information includes the weaning date or number of days weaned. Some cattle are weaned 45 or more days.

In addition, buyers were asked to rate their satisfaction with the growth and health of calves previously purchased at this sale and to rate their satisfaction with the vaccination program. The results indicate a high level of satisfaction with past purchase calf performance in growth, health and vaccination program.

The quality of the calves at this sale is a reason that buyers keep coming back. Sellers must continually match the quality of calves to what buyers are willing to pay for, and to continue to raise the reputation of this sale.

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