NAHMS feedlot reports indicate informational opportunities

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Feedyard Cattle feeders strongly believe in the effectiveness of pre-arrival management practices such as weaning vaccines, parasite control and weaning four weeks prior to shipment, but they often do not have access to management history on cattle they feed. That’s one example of opportunities for improvements in information sharing and education revealed in a new feedlot report from the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) a division of APHIS Veterinary Services.

Part I of the report, based on 2011 surveys of U.S. feedyards, focuses on feedlots with greater than 1,000 head capacity and Part II on those with fewer than 1,000 head.

NAHMS also released several info sheets on specific topics drawn from the full reports.

  • Awareness of the Beef Quality Assurance Program among operators of small feedlots
  • Injection practices in U.S. feedlots
  • Types and costs of respiratory disease treatment in U.S. feedlots
  • Vaccine usage in U.S. feedlots

The authors note that information flow between cattle feeders and their suppliers can foster improvement in health and management practices across the production chain. However, the study shows that flow of information often is lacking.

Around 80 percent of feedlots indicated pre-arrival practices such as weaning vaccinations are very effective to extremely effective, and operators on 69 percent of feedlots believed that pre-arrival processing information was very important. Only 34.7 percent of feedlots always had access to pre-arrival processing information, however, and 58.2 percent sometimes had access to the information. When pre-arrival processing information was available, 51 percent of feedlots always used the information to determine management or processing practices. Another 35.7 percent sometimes made use of the information

As for information flowing the other direction, only 25 percent of feedlots always or most of the time provided cattle suppliers with information about the cattle placed.

A large majority, generally between 80 and 90 percent of all feedylots report pre-arrival practices were performed on some or all the steers and heifers they received weighing less than 700 pounds. Practices listed included weaned for four weeks,  introduction to feed bunk, respiratory vaccinations given to calves at least two weeks prior to weaning, respiratory vaccinations given to calves at weaning, calves castrated and dehorned at least four weeks prior to shipping, calves treated for external or internal parasites prior to shipping.

Once cattle arrive in the feedlot, 86 percent of operations with 8,000-head capacity or greater and 49 percent of those with 1,000 to 7,999 head capacity commonly process them within 24 hours after arrival.

The two most common initial processing management practices were vaccination for respiratory disease, at 96 percent of feedlots, and treatment for parasites at 94 percent of feedlots. About half of feedlots gave an antibiotic injection as part of the initial processing procedure for any cattle.

Nearly all feedlots observe animals at least once a day during their first14 days in the feedlot, and 20 percent observe new animals more than twice a day. For animals that had been in the feedlot at least 30 days, the usual observation frequency on 70 percent of feedlots is once a day.

About 85 percent of feedlots have employees who help treat sick cattle. All feedlots with a capacity of 8,000 or more head had employees that treated sick cattle.

Eighty nine percent of all feedlots and 98 percent of those with 8,000-head or greater capacity, 98 percent provide either training or written guidelines. However, just 50 percent of feedlots with 1,000 to 7,999-head capacity use written guidelines for these employees, compared with 82 percent of the larger feedlots.

The report also shows some of the smaller feedlots lag behind larger operations in keeping health records. For example, among operations with greater than 8,000-head capacity, 98 percent keep records on date of treatment, 98 percent on treatment given, 96 percent on withdrawal periods, 97 percent on disease condition and 96 percent on treatment outcomes. Among the feedlots with 1,000 to 7,999-head capacity, percentage of operations keeping records on those points were 84, 87, 65, 66 and 63 respectively.

About 48 percent of cattle in feedlots with 1,000-head capacity or more receive an antibiotic in their feed at some point during the feeding period. For two-thirds of feedlots (66.9 percent) the average duration of antibiotic inclusion was seven days or less.

Nearly all feedlots, 96.6 percent, however, use the services of a veterinarian in some way to ensure the health of their cattle. Larger operations are more likely to use a private veterinarian who makes regular visits, while smaller feedlots are more likely to use a veterinarian on an as-needed basis.

Familiarity with the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program was high among feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 or more head, with 93.8 percent indicating are somewhat or very familiar with the program. Over 98 percent of cattle placed in feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 or more head go to operations that are very or somewhat familiar with the BQA program. Nearly two of three feedlots, 65.5 percent, had someone representing their feedlot attend a BQA meeting in the previous five years.

The full report and info sheets are available online from NAHMS.

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