How calves are managed before embarking on their senior trip to a feedyard  plays a big role in how successful they are while on feed and on the rail. That’s just one pearl that can be gleaned from Feedlot 2011, an in-depth and thorough analysis of the modern cattle feeding industry.
Conducted by NAHMS (the National Animal Health Monitoring System ), a part of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the effort updates NAHMS Feedlot 1999 study.
Among the results, the study found that more than 80% of feedyard operators with capacities of 1,000 head or larger believe that pre-arrival processing  can reduce sickness and death loss. In fact, 88% of feedyards surveyed had received bunk-broke calves, and 90% received calves that had been vaccinated  for respiratory disease two weeks prior and at weaning. Other preconditioning  practices that feedyards prefer are calves weaned at least four weeks prior to shipping, castrated and dehorned at least four weeks before ship date, and calves treated for external and internal parasites prior to shipping.
When pre-arrival processing information was available, 51% of feedlots always used the information to determine management or processing practices, and another 36% sometimes used the information. “The relatively high level of use of available information supports the views expressed by feedlot operators on the importance and effectiveness of pre-arrival practices ,” the study reports.
However, if there’s a question about prior management, or lack thereof, feedyards typically process calves on arrival. The two most common initial processing management practices were vaccinations for respiratory disease (96% of feedlots) and treatment for parasites  (95%) The most common practices used if cattle were processed a second time is implants (80%) and another vaccination for respiratory disease (75%).
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Given the high level of importance that feedlot operators place on animal health, Beef Quality Assurance  (BQA) practices figure heavily in a feedyard’s daily routine, the study found.
Overall, 97% of feedlot operators had heard of the BQA program , and operators of essentially all feedlots with a capacity greater than 8,000 knew of the program. Of feedyards from 1,000 to 7,999 head, 52% reported they were very familiar with BQA  and 40% said they were somewhat familiar. By contrast, 69% of feedlots greater than 8,000 head said they were very familiar with BQA and 29% said they were somewhat familiar.
To read the complete study, go to nahms.aphis.usda.gov/feedlot .
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