Mass Treatment, Big Impact

The following commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of AgWeb or Farm Journal. The opinions expressed below are the author's own.

When a group of newly weaned, co-mingled, stressed calves with unknown vaccination history or immune status arrive at a feedyard, managers and veterinarians can predict they are at a high risk for bovine respiratory disease (BRD).  Several management steps can reduce that risk, such as rest, access to good feed and water and low-stress handling methods. In many cases though, managers also use “metaphylaxis,” a strategy of administering antimicrobials to groups of animals to prevent disease.

Those treatments are expensive, and cattle feeders would gladly avoid them, but they know that severe BRD outbreaks cost far more in the long run.

While predicting disease risk in a group of cattle is relatively reliable for experienced cattle feeders, predicting risk in individual animals presents a much greater challenge. Veterinarians and industry partners continue to develop ways to predict risk or detect early signs of disease in individual cattle for more targeted treatments. Emerging chute-side technologies such as the Whisper stethoscope and the QScout BLD blood test and others help move the industry toward a goal of more individualized management.

In the meantime though, metaphylaxis plays an important role, and a new economic study from Kansas State University helps illustrate that importance. Their report, titled “Value of Arrival Metaphylaxis in U.S. Cattle Industry,” is published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

The researchers used 20 years of proprietary data from 10 large commercial Midwestern feedlots, to obtain short-run estimates of the effect of banning the use of metaphylaxis upon arrival in the feedyard on cattle feeding profitability and producer and consumer surplus. The simulation incorporates:

  • Veterinary costs associated with metaphylaxis.
  • Changes in cattle performance parameters.
  • Mortality distributions conditioned on metaphylaxis use.
  • Estimated producer net returns across livestock placement categories and treatment groups.

The analysis indicates net return value of metaphylaxis to the cattle feeding industry adds up to $532 million to $680 million per year. Eliminating metaphylaxis would reduce beef producer surplus by $1.81 billion to $2.32 billion and overall consumer surplus by $1.15 billion to $1.47 billion per year.

The researchers also note that removing metaphylaxis, which directly impacts animal mortality risk, is more costly than removing a production technology, such as antimicrobials in feed and water, which targets production efficiency. Previous research indicated that removing the use of antimicrobials in feed and water for production efficiency would create an impact of $280 million for beef producers.

View the full report from the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.