Preconditioned Calves Bring More Money

Calves that are preconditioned at weaning are healthier and more resilient to the rigors of shipping and commingling prior to introduction in subsequent production programs, said Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialists Derrell Peel and Kellie Raper in a letter called Cow-Calf Corner.

Preconditioning can add significant value to calves but requires planning and management, Peel and Raper said.  The Oklahoma Quality Beef Network is one program that allows producers to capture added value for calves.

A 45-day weaning period is the minimum required for calves to qualify for OQBN, but research has confirmed that a significant premium for fall-marketed calves weaned 60 days or more.




Preconditioning adds value to calves because of the weaning, health and other management protocols that are included in the programs, the specialists said.  Certification adds additional value by providing assurance to buyers that preconditioning programs have been implemented completely and properly.

The value of each of the preconditioning program components has been verified by years of data and research along with the additional value of certification, they said.

As with any economic decision, producers should evaluate the costs and returns of preconditioning programs.  Additional costs of preconditioning vary across operations and situations and, while there is no guarantee of positive returns, the probability is higher and more consistent.

Over the previous 12 years, OQBN premiums have averaged $13.05 per cwt, the pair said.  The largest premium was $19.35 per cwt in 2014, and the smallest was in 2020 with $8.35.  Last year’s premium was $18.67 per cwt.  It’s also apparent that the largest premium years are those associated with lower US herd sizes and efforts to rebuild.

It is important to remember that OQBN calves sell at a premium to calves not preconditioned and, also at heavier weights compared to the beginning of weaning.

Producers may feel that current high calf prices makes the value of preconditioning less, but the highest average premium for OQBN occurred in 2014 at the time of the previous record high cattle prices, the specialists said.

For buyers, the reduced risk of animal morbidity and mortality because of preconditioning is more valuable when the cost of the animals is higher.




Marketing calves for added value requires two steps: first, complete the health and management requirements of the preconditioning program and second, market the animals in a manner that buyers who demand and value preconditioned calves will have the best opportunity for purchase.

OQBN sales are scheduled with partner auctions to attract the volume of both buyers and certified preconditioned cattle to result in better markets and value for the calves.




The USDA reported formula and contract base prices for live FOB steers and heifers this week ranged from $179.00 per cwt to $185.11, compared with last week’s range of $179.00 to $185.93 per cwt.  FOB dressed steers, and heifers went for $282.97 per cwt to $289.11, compared with $280.56 to $290.72.

The USDA choice cutout Thursday was down $1.91 per cwt at $311.66 while select was off $1.44 at $286.17.  The choice/select spread narrowed to $25.49 from $25.96 with 142 loads of fabricated product and 25 loads of trimmings and grinds sold into the spot market.

The USDA said basis bids for corn from feeders in the Southern Plains were unchanged at $1.50 to $1.70 a bushel over the Dec corn contract, which settled at $4.70 3/4 a bushel, down $0.00 3/4.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Wednesday was not available.  Thursday’s Sep contract settlement was $255.57 per cwt, up $2.42.