During the recent Bovine Respiratory Disease Syndrome (BRDS) symposium in Denver, Mike Engler, PhD, CEO, president and chairman of the board at Cactus Feeders, presented data showing BRD trends in Cactus feedyards over the past 13 years. With the company marketing nearly 1 million cattle per year, the dataset includes huge numbers and shows some clear trends relating to placement patterns and environmental effects on BRD incidence.

Engler says mortality during the finishing phase in beef steers has increased over the last 13 years at a rate of 0.05 percent per year for cattle fed in Cactus Feeders’ operations. During that time, the company shifted its emphasis toward placing heavier cattle than in previous years, which has corresponded with lower morbidity rates but higher case fatality rates.

Regression analysis of Cactus data indicates that mortality is increasing at an annual rate of 0.10 percent in 600 pound cattle, 0.06 percent in 700-pound cattle and 0.04 percent in 800 pound cattle.

The data also illustrate the effects of drought on feedyard cattle, with a significant spike in BRD mortality during the severe drought in 2012. The increase was especially evident in 600- to 700-pound calves, which went from about 2 percent mortality in 2011 to about 4 percent in 2012. Factors involved probably included drought-related reduction in immunity, inadequate cow-calf nutrition and other environmental conditions such as heat stress and dust in feedyards.

The effects of that single year had implications on the analysis of the trend data. When 2012 was removed from the regression analysis, the rate of increase for mortality across year for all three weight classes of cattle was between 0.04  and 0.05 percent per year.

As placement weights have increased, mortality in the early stages of the feeding period has decreased, Engler says, resulting in a greater proportion of total death loss later in the period.

Engler also provided data showing the dramatic economic impact of BRD mortality in feedyards, particularly with today’s high market values for cattle. Analysis of Cactus closeout data from 2012 through May 2014 indicates that a 1 percent increase in mortality has a $20.07 per head negative effect on all cattle marketed.