The $1 billion bill the beef industry pays every year

Sick calves cost time, money and opportunity, but these five preventative strategies can help.

August 1, 2019

3 Min Read
Keeping beef cattle healthy
Jamie Purfeerst

By Ron Scott

The number one health challenge facing the cattle industry has been sneaking into calf pens for decades, reducing calf performance and taking dollars from producers’ wallets. Every year, more than one in five head fall victim to it, costing the cattle industry more than $1 billion.

The culprit?

Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD), including pneumonia, shipping fever, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) virus and parainfluenza 3 (PI3).

BRD poses a staggering economic loss, but overcoming respiratory diseases starts at the producer level.

What can you do to join in the fight against BRD? Start by monitoring the impact respiratory disease has on your operation.

A hefty price tag

Some studies show sick calves gain roughly half of what their healthy counterparts gain for 30 days or more. Assuming healthy calves gain around 3 pounds per day, that’s potentially 45 pounds lost per sick calf.

And guess what? Sick calves don't catch up. If days on feed is equal, you’ve lost 45 pounds of out-weight compared to a healthy calf.

Based on a $1.10 per cwt market price for fed cattle, that’s about $50 of lost profit per calf. Add an extra $30 for time and money to treat the calf, and each sick calf can cost approximately $80.

But there’s more to the story. Sick calves can have longer-term consequences that often go unnoticed.

Related:Here's how attaining zero calf sickness is absolutely possible

Overlooked penalties

Following the same math, if a sick heifer gets bred the first time, she’ll calve 45 pounds lighter than her contemporaries, and that’s the best-case scenario. The heifer will likely gain less during the growing phase as well, putting her even further behind. Then, once she calves it’ll take more time and nutrition for her to catch up on body condition.

A first-calf heifer that’s playing catch up on weight and body condition will have a hard time getting bred back. If she does breed back, it will probably be later in the breeding season. And, the later she gets bred, the further she will fall behind in subsequent breeding seasons.

Additionally, producers who retain ownership could miss out on profit for every sick calf they send to the feedlot. Cattle never diagnosed with respiratory diseases have heavier carcasses and improved quality grade on the rail, meaning a more valuable carcass.

Calf health impacts your reputation even if you don’t retain ownership. Healthy cattle build a positive reputation with cattle buyers, which can result in better prices and less time spent marketing.

A preventative approach

Calves are most susceptible to stress and sickness around weaning time. Achieving healthy calves starts well before weaning with preventative calf health strategies, including:

Related:How to cut costs treating BRD

  • High-quality cow nutrition

Dam nutrition impacts the nutrients the calf receives in utero and colostrum quality after calving. Colostrum contains essential nutrients that help calves fight against pathogens, establish immune response and stimulate growth. 

  • Proper sanitation

The Sandhills Calving System was designed so newborn calves are born in a clean area without contamination from previous births. Keeping a clean environment for newborn calves is essential to prevent exposure to excessive pathogens.

  • A comprehensive vaccination program

Proper calf vaccination, developed with your veterinarian, helps minimize treatment costs and sets calves up for a healthy, high-performing future.

  • Low-stress weaning practices

Fenceline weaning using plastic nose-tags and creep feeding can help reduce stress and ease the transition for calves. Perform castration and dehorning before weaning to keep stress at a minimum.

  • Strong starter nutrition

Getting calves eating from day one can equip a calf’s immune system to better deal with weaning-time stress. Palatable starter feeds encourage calves to return to the bunk faster, improving the chance to stay healthy during weaning time.

Keeping calves healthy means less time and money invested in reacting to sick calves, putting more potential dollars back in your pocket. Work with your local veterinarian to create a preventative calf health plan customized for your needs.

Scott is beef technical innovations director with Purina Animal Nutrition.

Source: Purina Animal Nutritionwhich is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset

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