CONTEXT : There is pressure on production veterinarians to reduce the use of antibiotics in intensive beef production systems.
AIMS : The present study investigated whether preconditioning – the process whereby weaned calves destined for the feedlot are prepared over a period of time – reduced antibiotic treatment events, and improved health and production of calves in a South African feedlot.
METHODS : Preconditioned calves (n = 301) and control calves (n = 332) were sourced from the same origin on two occasions, and arrived at the feedlot on the same day. Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) was defined as the ‘pulling’ of clinically sick calves from feedlot pens, followed by the standard protocol for treatment of BRD (including antibiotic treatment). Outcome variables related to health were BRD overall incidence (pulling), BRD re-pulling and lung lesion scores. Production outcome variables measured were carcass weight, carcass average daily gain (ADG) and days on feed (DOF). Initial carcass weight was estimated from shrunk liveweight in order to estimate the effect of preconditioning on carcass gain, the most economically relevant outcome. Statistical analyses were done using multiple linear, logistic and Cox regression. Predictor variables were preconditioning vs control, gender, starting weight, DOF, pulling for BRD and carcass ADG.
KEY RESULTS : A lower proportion of preconditioned calves were pulled and a lower proportion of pulled calves were re-pulled for BRD compared with control calves (8 vs 17% and 8 vs 16%, respectively, P < 0.01). A higher proportion of preconditioned calves compared with control calves were market ready at 90 DOF (89 vs 67%, P < 0.01). In the multivariable models preconditioning was associated with a 200 g/d increase in carcass growth rate (P < 0.01) and with a 17.7 kg increase in overall carcass gain (P < 0.01) after adjusting for gender and DOF.
CONCLUSIONS : Preconditioning reduced the incidence and severity of BRD and feedlot standing time and improved production of calves in South African feedlots.
IMPLICATIONS : Preconditioning has the potential to add value to the beef feedlot by reducing the formation of antimicrobial resistance while improving the profitability of the feedlot.