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Demystify BRD with a systems management approach

Have you noticed BRD outbreaks in your cattle after stressful events? Learn the systems approach to managing BRD.

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Submitted by Boehringer Ingelheim

“It’s called bovine respiratory disease [BRD] complex for a reason,” stressed Joe Gillespie, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “It’s a very complex system, and no prevention or treatment option is 100% effective. In addition, causes and symptoms can be difficult to monitor and identify.”

Dr. John Richeson, associate professor of animal science at West Texas A&M University, agreed. “It’s so complicated because there are several viral and bacterial pathogens involved, and stress adds to that complication,” he said. “To me, stress is a necessary component in the BRD pathogenesis for BRD to truly develop.”

BRD costs the cattle industry an estimated $900 million annually in death loss, reduced feed efficiency and treatment costs.1 For the beef-finishing industry, it’s the costliest cause of sickness and death.2 Protecting cattle from this devastating disease complex demands a systems approach to management:

  • Work with a veterinarian to develop a vaccination program that helps build a strong immune system.

  • Seek guidance from a nutritionist to implement a nutrition program that supports immune function.

  • Train employees to use low-stress handling practices as they interact with cattle.

  • Monitor cattle behavior on a daily basis to quickly identify potentially sick animals.

  • Evaluate those programs at the end of each production cycle.

Tailor the vaccination program to the operation

When devising a vaccination program, Dr. Gillespie reminds producers to consult with their veterinarian to develop a protocol that addresses the nuances and stressors specific to their type of operation. Each phase of the beef production system has different stress-triggering points, which makes properly timed vaccinations critical to building animal immunity.

“If we’re expecting a vaccine to cause an animal to be immunized days before they’re undergoing a stressful situation, results typically are not good,” Dr. Gillespie said. “Now, if we vaccinate that animal 30 to 60 days prior, that animal will be better able to undergo that particular challenge.”

In an ideal scenario, Dr. Richeson advises vaccinating around 90 days after birth when calves are being handled for other reasons and again about two weeks before weaning. This timing helps build a stronger immune system well before calves experience highly stressful events like weaning, transportation and commingling.

Working with a veterinarian who understands the distinct aspects and stresses involved in your particular phase of the beef production system will result in a better- prepared calf as it transitions into other phases of the system.

Practice good stockmanship when handling cattle

With more recognition being given to the impact stress has on BRD incidence, there is increased focus on stockmanship and its role in animal well-being.

“Livestock really only want to know a few things,” Dr. Gillespie explained. “One is they want to be able to see you. Two is they want to be able to move around you. Three is they want to go to a place they associate with comfort, whether it’s their group or their home pen. If you understand those three things and move around your livestock, you can have a better appreciation for whether they’re healthy or not.”

Dr. Richeson highlights three tips to minimize stress when handling cattle, some specific to certain sectors of the beef production system, and references Beef Quality Assurance guidelines for further details about low-stress handling:

  • “Separate a small group at a time.” In a cow/calf operation, avoid pairing off the whole herd at once, which can keep dams and calves separated all day. Long periods of separation can cause high levels of stress in both the cow and calf, making handling more difficult.

  • “Be as quiet as possible.” Regardless of sector, cattle respond better to human positioning than yelling and excessive noise. Handlers should work as a team to position themselves in a way that guides cattle where they need to go.

  • “Think about water.” When working with stocker or feedlot cattle, be sure they have access to water as soon as they’re received and immediately after processing. Also provide them with good, quality feed as soon as possible.

Evaluate program effectiveness

Finally, it’s important to conduct an evaluation at the end of each production or marketing cycle. “We call it ‘systems thinking,’” Dr. Gillespie concluded. “We’re evaluating our entire system based on particular data points and inputs. If we have a plan and record the important steps and data points in that plan, we can evaluate more effectively. This will help that producer see what went right, what went wrong, and determine how to make effective changes to improve the outcome next time. We don’t want a shot-gun or knee-jerk reaction to cause breaks in the system. With a plan and data, we are able to respond and continue to improve outcomes in our operations.”

1 Chirase N, Greene LW. Dietary zinc and manganese sources administered from the fetal stage onward affect immune response of transit-stressed and virus-infected offspring steer calves. Anim Feed Sci  Technol 2001;93(3–4):217–228.

2 Duff GC, Galyean ML. Board-invited review: recent advances in management of highly stressed, newly received feedlot cattle. J Anim Sci 2007;85(3):823–840. doi:10.2527/jas.2006-501.

©2023 Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., Duluth, GA. All Rights Reserved. US-BOV-0070-2023

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