The value of prevention medicine in a cow-calf program can be summed up like this – sick calves just don’t pencil-out. They don’t gain like they should, medicine and doctoring chores add costs and there’s more of a chance they’ll die or develop chronic infections. But by implementing and following a well-rounded vaccination and parasite control program, there’s a better chance you’ll keep calves healthy and gaining up to their genetic potential, like they should.
Research from various steer feed-out studies through Texas A&M University, Oklahoma State University and other institutions illustrates how a good animal health program prevents cattle from getting sick and generates better performance.1 In this period of tight profit margins, it’s essential to keep calves healthy.
Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV) and Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) are the leading animal health issues facing calves and yearlings. Preventive programs to control and eliminate these diseases are imperative, said Dr. Jerry Woodruff, senior professional services veterinarian, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. (BIVI). Dr. John M. Davidson, also BIVI senior professional services veterinarian, added that by preventing these and other diseases in cattle, the industry can help reverse the trend of increased dependency on metaphylactic antibiotics.
“BVDV is an infection that can cause numerous problems,” Woodruff said, adding that it causes hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to cattlemen every year.2 “It can damage the digestive system, complicate respiratory infections, depress the animal’s immune system and cause multiple reproductive failures and complications, including early embryonic death, birth defects, abortions, and persistently infected (PI) calves. And it can cause high mortality rates in calves and yearling cattle.”
PI calves, though usually small in number, can spread BVDV to every calf in a pasture or corral through shedding of the virus in various body secretions. Testing for PI calves and removing them promptly can reduce the transmission of BVDV to vulnerable cattle. So can using a proven vaccination program that will prevent BVDV.
“For a cattle producer, a vaccine program is very helpful to prevent not only the respiratory form of BVDV, but also the reproductive form of BVDV,” Woodruff said, noting that a modified live virus (MLV) vaccine program is typically used 30 to 60 days pre-breeding to control BVDV and other respiratory and reproductive diseases in heifers and cows.
To prevent calves from being infected with BVDV, a MLV vaccine program is recommended that can control BVDV and a host of diseases that can cause health problems. BIVI’s Pyramid 5® + Presponse SQ® are two respiratory vaccines provided in the convenience of one dose, Woodruff added. They protect against disease caused by BVDV types 1 and 2, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), parainfluenza type 3 (PI3), bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), and Mannheimia haemolytica.
BIVI has also received a label claim for protection against respiratory disease caused by BVDV Type 1b for at least 217 days. BVDV Type 1b is the most common subtype of BVDV found in PI calves. 3,4,5
Woodruff said BVDV Type 1b, seen lately in more herds and especially PI calves, “is a subgenotype strain of the BVDV virus that cattle producers should be aware of, and provide protection for in their vaccine programs.”
He said keeping BVDV out of the herd will likely help control other diseases as well. “BVDV can be a very immunosuppressive virus. If an animal is infected with an immunosuppressive isolate of BVDV, it can make its immune system susceptible to other viral and bacterial diseases. So if we can control BVDV, we have a lot better chance of controlling some of the other diseases that affect cattle from a respiratory and reproductive standpoint.”
Internal and external parasites can slow down cattle gains. Internal parasites even occupy part of an animal’s immune system, which can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. So control of parasites, like the brown stomach worm (Ostertagia ostertagi), is an important part of a preventive medicine program.
Woodruff said that when producers evaluate the many parasite control products available to them, it’s important to know “which parasites are most prevalent and economically important” in their geographic area. “It doesn’t matter how many parasites a product controls if they don’t control the ones with the greatest economic impact on your herd,” he explained.
“Compare product labels for persistency. Persistency is described as how a parasite control product continues to fight parasite infestations after application. Increased persistency can result in fewer parasite eggs shed, reduced pasture parasite levels and increased opportunities for weight gain. Increased persistency helps reduce the parasite load for the animal, as well as reducing the parasite challenge load on the pasture.”
Dr. David Lalman, Oklahoma State University Extension beef cattle specialist, points out that results of eight years of Texas A&M Ranch to Rail studies in the 1990s showed that on average, sick calves couldn’t keep up with healthy calves.1 These programs were designed to enable producers to enter a few calves in the feed-out studies. They were also designed to show ranchers how cattle that did not receive good preconditioning, including vaccinations, were worth less on the bottom line.
“In the Ranch to Rail study, cattle identified as being sick gained 0.32 pounds per head per day less when compared to cattle that were never treated (for illness while on feed),” Lalman said, adding that those gain rates would be higher in today’s feeding programs. In overall Ranch to Rail studies, more than 12,000 cattle were healthy in the feed-outs and about 4,000 were sick. Cost of medicine at the feedyard was about $27 per head for the sick cattle. Lalman said the figure would be double using today’s economic climate.1
Average daily gain for healthy cattle was 2.99 pounds per day, compared to 2.67 pounds for sick cattle. Net return was $67.32 per head for healthy cattle. Sick cattle lost more than $20 per head.1
“Sickness reduced the number of carcasses grading choice by 12 percent and increased the number of standard grading carcasses by 5 percent,”1 Lalman added. “Obviously, this impact presents marketing limitations relative to grid pricing systems that are largely driven by quality grade.
“When death loss, medicine costs and reduced carcass value were considered, cattle that were identified and treated for sickness returned an average of around $88 less compared to cattle that were never treated for sickness.”1
Prevention medicine, part of good stewardship
Davidson warned that the current trends of increased antibiotic usage to treat BRD continue to face pressure from outside forces, and that producers should work to prevent these diseases when possible. In 2014, he says more than $550 million was spent on antibiotic usage to treat BRD in the cattle industry, a number that should be reduced.6
“We must do a better job of being stewards, and not just livestock stewards, but also stewards of the products we are choosing to use to treat respiratory disease,” Davidson said. “There are changes coming in antibiotics oversight.”
He said it’s important for producers to work closely with beef cattle veterinarians to develop and implement a preventive medicine program. “Beef cattle veterinarians relish the working relationship with beef cattle producers to identify areas where we can reduce sickness and deaths in our cattle populations and ultimately reduce our reliance on antibiotics,” he said.
“The concept that we can prevent disease and reduce our dependence and reliance on mass antibiotics should become universal.”
For more on prevention medicine and how it can help your herd become more efficient, go to beefmagazine.com/prevention-works.
1--Ridpath JF, et al. Change in predominance of bovine viral diarrhea virus subgenotypes among samples submitted to a diagnostic laboratory over a 20-year time span. J Vet Diagn Invest 2011;23:185-193.
2—United States Department of Agriculture. Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus. APHIS Info Sheet 2007.
3--Fulton R W, et al. Evaluation of diagnostic tests used for detection of bovine viral diarrhea virus and prevalence of subtypes 1a, 1b, and 2a in persistently infected cattle entering a feedlot. JAVMA 2006;Vol 228, No. 4.
4--Fulton RW, et al. Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) 1b: predominant BVDV subtype in calves with respiratory disease. Can J Vet Res 2002;66:181.
5—Lalman D, Mourer G. Effects of preconditioning on health, performance and prices of weaned calves. Oklahoma State University Extension Service ANSI-3529. http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-2013/ANSI-3529web2014.pdf
6—CEESA MAT data, 2009-2014.
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