The Evolution of Metaphylaxis

Dr. Tom Latta, Spearman, Texas ( John Maday )

Cattle feeders first began using mass treatments for newly arrived calves back in the 1970s, as a means of controlling outbreaks of respiratory disease or “shipping fever.” Since then, procedures have evolved with the availability of more effective antibiotics, more regulation of veterinary medications and greater emphasis on food safety, antibiotic residues and prevention of antibiotic resistance.

During the recent AABP Conference, Tom Latta, DVM, a feedyard consultant based in Spearman, Texas, outlined the history and current trends in metaphylaxis for feedyard cattle.

Beginning in the early 1970s, cattle feeders used intravenous injections of tetracycline for mass treatments. The method seemed to reduce BRD morbidity, but was time consuming. Some shifted to longer-acting penicillin, mostly in groups of calves breaking with BRD.

Also in the 1970s, producers began administering sulfathiazole through drinking water, and somewhat later combined the antimicrobial sulfa compound with chlortetracycline (CTC) for mass treatments.

Some veterinarians around the same time used erythromycin injections, which tended to cause tissue reactions at injection sites.

By the late 1970s, veterinarians and clinics began marketing and administering proprietary compounds including two or more antibiotics along with a blend of vitamins and minerals for mass treatments.

Aminoglycosides, such as gentamicin, and also chloramphenicol, saw use in the late 1970s. The Academy of Veterinary Consultants (AVC) released a position statement in 1993 discouraging use of aminoglycosides in food animals due to residues, and use of chloramphenicol for this purpose was discontinued due to human-health concerns.

The 1980s and 1990s brought the introduction of ceftiofur (1980s) and tilmicosin (1990s), which allowed lower dosages, easier use and better efficacy for mass treatments. These were followed by products such as florfenicol and tuluthramycin, which are widely used today.

Addressing the economics of metaphylaxis, Latta says animal health remains on the forefront of cattle-feeding profitability. However, many feedlot managers do not have adequate data to make mass-treatment decisions based on economics. Most make some risk assessments before cattle arrive, based on their source, travel distance and other factors, then they observe cattle off the truck to make a final decision on mass treatment.

In evaluating metaphylaxis programs, Latta stresses the importance of observing the post-metaphylaxis interval (PMI) or post-treatment interval (PTI), especially with today’s longer-acting antibiotics. Delaying additional treatments through a pre-determined PMI allows the program to work and provides objective data with which to measure success.

In addition to economics, BRD is an animal-welfare issue, and Latta encourages veterinarians to advocate for the animals and communicate to managers the need to consider animal well-being in mass-treatment decisions. Latta also discussed a case in which a feedlot operator decided to cut production costs by using metaphylaxis less frequently and using lower-priced antibiotics. The system worked for a while, but with the arrival of changeable fall weather and the run of higher-risk calves, costly outbreaks occurred. This suggests that with planning and adequate records, feedyards can adjust mass-treatment protocols somewhat based on risk levels, but too much cost cutting in this area could lead to much greater expenses down the road.

Latta recommends these five guiding principles for veterinarians using metaphylaxis in cattle:

  1. The veterinarian is the patient’s advocate, maybe the only one.
  2. Typical cattle-procurement processes are not health friendly.
  3. Don’t mess up adrenal gland health by stacking stressors.
  4. Don’t neglect the gut.
  5. In newly arrived cattle, antibiotics are just one factor influencing animal health. Consultants also should consider the history of cattle, their condition on arrival, their number and weight and owner preferences.

“Use metaphylaxis as a tool, not a crutch,” Latta concludes.

For more on metaphylaxis strategies, see these articles from BovineVetOnline:

How Metaphylaxis Controls Disease

 Mass Treatment, Big Impact

Target your Feedlot Treatments