Sick cattle are expensive cattle. An analysis on data from more than 62,000 calves through Iowa’s Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF) found the presence of lung adhesions from 2002 to 2011 was negatively correlated with carcass quality and performance. The 2012 report includes TCSCF retained ownership records from cattle fed in 18 cooperating yards that used common nutrition, health and management strategies, according to manager Darrell Busby, MS. Individual records of lung adhesions in the packing plant were matched with live and harvest data. These were sorted into four data groups: cattle without lung adhesions and never treated in the feedyard; no adhesions but treated; adhesions but not treated; and cattle with lung adhesions that were treated.

• Overall, 5% of the calves had lung adhesions. Of that subset, only one-third (1,042) were treated in the feedyard.

• Cattle that were never visibly sick and had no adhesions were heavier at harvest (1,185 lb. compared to 1,138 lb. for those treated cattle with lung adhesions) and took fewer days to get there (165 days on feed vs. 179).

• The non-treated, healthy cattle had the lowest cost of gain and the highest carcass weights.

• The non-treated, no adhesion cattle reached 68.4% USDA Choice and above, compared to 53.8% for the cattle that had adhesions and received treatment.

Even more dramatic was the drop in the percentage of cattle reaching the carcass specifications Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand from 17.8% to 7.6%.

n All of this was reflected in final profit per head, where that group earned $67.55 while those with adhesions and treated lost $5.32.

This study punctuates the need to diligently employ prevention strategies. In nearly every category significant to final value, the cattle free of lung adhesions won out with final live and carcass weight, days on feed, average daily gain (ADG), cost of gain, dressing percentage and quality grade.

Most of the retained-ownership cattle enrolled in the program arrive preconditioned, Busby adds. That includes two rounds of a modified-live vaccine (MLV) to protect against respiratory disease, the root of lung adhesions. He suspects the incidence of lung adhesions in cattle not preconditioned would be higher.

Since lung adhesions indicate an animal had health challenges at some point in its life – but not when – it can be difficult to pinpoint specific strategies. “After one of the worst feeding winters, we found lung adhesions were three times normal, indicating environmental factors as well,” Busby reports.

“Based on other work, we know that the younger, lighter calves are the biggest problems,” he says. “So I’d suggest good nutrition at late gestation and early lactation, calves vaccinated and weaned 30 to 45 days – those are proven [on-ranch] methods to reduce health problems in the feedlot.” To learn more about the analysis, visit