Stressful situations are practically unavoidable for modern beef cattle. With stress often comes reduced performance or even the opportunity for disease to take hold and cause more significant losses.
“A calf that’s eating goes a long way to increasing performance and weight gain, and, along with that, there’s improved health in these calves,” says Kerry Barling, DVM, Ph.D., Global Manager of Beef Technology, Lallemand Animal Nutrition. “For years, we’ve talked about respiratory disease in cattle being a major problem. Usually respiratory disease manifests itself through stress, which weakens the calf’s system and allows disease to take place.”
The bovine respiratory disease complex (BRDC) is the most common cause for cattle deaths and results in more than $650 million in losses industrywide. The average pull rate in feedlot cattle has remained around 30 percent for years even with advances in vaccines and antibiotics to tackle both viral and bacterial BRDC causes, Dr. Barling notes.
“The one thing we haven’t been as diligent in is addressing how we alleviate that stress through management,” he says. “Another area the industry can pursue further is how to prime the calf’s immune system to help offset the effects of stress even before it occurs.”
One way to help outsmart stress before its effects on cattle are realized is to add a direct-fed microbial (DFM), also known as a probiotic — such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii — which has been proven to improve cattle feed uptake, lower morbidity and lower mortality.2 In a trial where all cattle were given an injectable antibiotic upon arrival, animals fed ProTernative, which contains S. cerevisiae boulardii strain I-1079, had reduced pulls compared with controls.
ProTernative can be fed to cattle before or during a period of known stress, such as weaning or shipping. Then, it is typically fed for the first 21 to 60 days of the feeding program, but it can be customized for the group. Dr. Barling notes that ProTernative can still be beneficial when fed after arrival while cattle are adjusting to their new surroundings. In addition, probiotics can be fed in conjunction with vaccination and antibiotic treatment programs.
Careful management during stressful situations — plus adding a probiotic to help reduce the negative impact of stress in cattle — can help the industry confront BRDC like never before.
“Particularly in this current economic market where we’re talking about $1,500 calves, the investment makes sense,” Dr. Barling says. “It’s a simple, cost-effective way to manage your risk. For just a few dollars per head, adding a probiotic can reduce treatment for BRD by half and even reduce mortality.”