Editor’s note: We’ll have a series of articles summarizing highlights from the recent Bovine Respiratory Disease Symposium and Academy of Veterinary Consultants Conference on this site over the rest of this month. Check back often.
While the cattle industry continues to refine preventive measures, treatments and overall management, feedlot morbidity, mortality and costs associated with bovine respiratory disease (BRD) stubbornly refuse to improve. A concerted, multi-sector effort could shift that trend, but significant progress will require some fundamental changes in the ways cattle are managed throughout the production and marketing chain.
That message was clear when Oklahoma State University economist Derrell Peel, PhD, presented on the economics of BRD during the recent symposium in Denver. Peel says that in spite of industry efforts, feedlot death losses associated with BRD have inched higher since 1994.
Peel noted several factors that contribute to the challenge of addressing BRD in the U.S. production system:
Complexity of the disease: Several viral and bacterial pathogens can contribute to BRD cases, along with physical and psychological stress, nutrition, genetics and environmental factors.
Complexity of the U.S. cattle industry: We raise calves across the country, mostly in small herds, which are comingled at sale time and transported significant distances for the next production stage. May are comingled and transported multiple times.
Economic incentives: Our system rewards rapid weight gains and high-performing cattle, with metabolic demands potentially over-taxing the animals’ limited respiratory system
Profits in high-risk cattle: Backgrounders, stockers and feeders seek out lots of underweight, freshly weaned calves of unknown health background, hoping to “straighten them out” and capitalize on compensatory gains. Producers of these calves accept somewhat lower prices, but lack strong economic incentives to adopt and document practices that help prevent later disease, such as a 45-day weaning period prior to shipping. “Industry incentives are not consistent with industry needs,” Peel says.
To make a dent in BRD losses, Peel says we need to begin at the cow-calf level, and begin with cows before they deliver their calves. Genomic evaluations for health likely will play an expanding role in selection in the future, as will “fetal programing,” where the cow’s nutritional status during gestation influences the long-term health and productivity of her calf. Cow and calf vaccinations, along with comprehensive preconditioning can contribute to lifetime health.
For more summaries from the BRD Symposium and Academy of Veterinary Consultants Conference, see these articles from BovineVetOnline: