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Articles from 1999 In April


Calving Tips: Going To War On Calf Scours

cattle disease preventing scours

Calf diarrhea (scours) is the primary cause of death in calves from 2 to 30 days of age. And, while advances in scours treatments may bring improved survival rates, the economic benefit of improved preventive measures far exceeds that of treatment.

Scours pathogens are viruses, bacteria and microscopic parasites. Most of these pathogens do their damage in the intestinal tract. Several mechanisms go to work there, all of which cause diarrhea or scours.

  • They cause the cells of the intestinal lining to malfunction.
  • They can kill the intestinal lining cells.
  • They can invade the deeper layers of the intestinal lining and rapidly destroy it.

The K99 strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) causes diarrhea by impairing the ability of the intestinal lining to digest and absorb the milk nutrients. This K99 strain, however, is only capable of causing scours in calves under a week old. After that, the calf's intestine becomes resistant to its effects.

The cells lining the intestine can be killed by viruses such as rotavirus and coronavirus and a protozoan parasite called Cryptosporidium. The scours tend to be yellow and watery. Because viruses and cryptosporidia aren't susceptible to antibiotics, the only treatment of this type of scours is nutritional and fluid support of the calf until the intestine lining is regenerated.

Carriers And Shedders

Rotavirus, coronavirus and crypto are carried by healthy heifers and cows and are shed into the environment in their manure. Cryptosporidium, which is also a threat to humans, is particularly troublesome because no effective treatment nor vaccine is available, despite extensive research.

Bacteria, such as certain strains of E. coli and Salmonella, invade the deeper layers of the intestinal lining, rapidly destroying it. Generally, this group causes release of blood and mucus into the diarrhea.

Calf scours are usually caused by two or more of these pathogens working together. The severity and duration of a scours episode is related to the following factors:

  • The number (or dose) of each agent involved (i.e., sanitation).
  • The extent of intestinal destruction or malfunction created by each pathogen -- their effects are additive. Different strains of each pathogen exist, and differ in their capacity to induce severe disease.
  • The amount and quality of colostrum consumed by the calf from the dam. *The severity of other stresses (wetness, cold, need to fight off other diseases and poor nutrition caused by poor maternal milk production or deficiencies of certain trace minerals or vitamins).

After The Damage Is Done

When the intestine is damaged by scours pathogens, the water and nutrients in the dam's milk can't be completely absorbed into the calf's bloodstream. As a result, a large fraction is lost from the calf's body in the diarrhea. This loss is the greatest threat to the survival of a scouring calf. Therefore, it must be a primary treatment focus.

The fluids lost in the diarrhea quickly deplete the calf of water and salts, producing symptoms of dehydration -- sunken eyes, weakness, and dryness to the mouth and nostrils. As the calf loses body fluid through diarrhea, its blood thickens, making it harder for its heart to deliver blood to its tissues.

A Closer Look: Tips For Diagnosing And Treating Coccidiosis In Beef Calves

Meanwhile, the loss of salts from the calf's body creates an imbalance in the normal pH of the calf's system. As acidity takes over, acidosis sets in.

Calves with acidosis are weak and uncoordinated, often exhibiting a drunken, wobbly gait when made to walk. When encouraged to nurse, their suckle response is just a weak chewing motion. As acidosis worsens, the calf can't stand, becoming lethargic and sleepy.

Very advanced cases become comatose. The function of the heart and lungs is greatly impaired in cases of acidosis, and many advanced cases die of cardiac arrest.

Low Blood Sugar

For scouring calves, another common problem in cold weather is low blood sugar. The calf expends its own sugar reserves trying to keep warm. If it can't absorb milk nutrients from its damaged intestine, its sugar reserves aren't replenished.

Calves with low blood sugar usually develop subnormal temperatures (below 100 degrees F) as they lose the ability to maintain body heat. Low blood sugar contributes to the symptoms of weakness and lethargy induced by acidosis.

Thus, several problems are simultaneously at work: dehydration, acidosis and low blood sugar. If the calf didn't get adequate amounts of colostrum the first day of life, simultaneous infections in other organs can also be present.

Treatment involves correcting the fluid deficit and electrolyte imbalance. The use of antibiotics in cases of non-specific diarrhea is controversial within the veterinary profession. Barring a history of Salmonella or signs of systemic infection, such as a swollen navel or swollen joints, the use of antibiotics in non-specific diarrhea of calves is inappropriate. It will usually not affect the outcome, but it rarely makes things worse.

The key to proper therapy is to realize the magnitude of the fluid deficit. A 100-lb. calf that's 10% dehydrated needs 10 lbs. of fluids to just correct the immediate deficit. If 1 gal. of fluids weighs 8 lbs., the calf needs somewhere around 1.25 gals. Giving a calf 2 qts., two to four times a day, may be necessary to correct and maintain the fluids.

Severe dehydration must be corrected using intravenous treatment. In addition, most calves with diarrhea will be acidotic. Electrolyte solutions with an alkalinizing agent such as bicarbonate are then necessary. Carefully read the label to find products that contain bicarbonate. Usually, they're more expensive but are worth it.

Prevention Is Paramount

Remember, scours prevention is the most important and cost-effective area to invest your time. Attack these three broad points:

  1. Good general hygiene minimizes exposure, thus preventing disease. There are numerous opportunities for improving sanitation. A few include improving the general sanitation of calving lots, disinfecting calving barn pens between occupancy, sanitizing calf treatment equipment between uses and isolating scouring calves.
  2. Make sure the calf gets enough colostrum. This is the single most important determinant of the calf's immune status during the neonatal period. Failure to do this means a 3- to 10-fold increase in the calf's risk of becoming sick.
  3. Proper cow vaccination against E. coli and rotavirus and coronavirus can increase the antibodies she passes through her colostrum to the calf.

The complex, interrelated nature of these strategies makes prevention a challenge. For example, implementing a sound vaccine program (prevention strategy 3) will be totally ineffective if calves don't suckle enough colostrum (prevention strategy 2).

Likewise, even if you accomplish prevention strategies 2 and 3, if the environment in which the calves are born is heavily loaded with scours pathogens (strategy 1), it will overwhelm the calf's immunity and scours will result.

Scours is one of several management disease complexes where integrated prevention strategies and attention to detail in multiple areas are required for success.

 

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A Better '99

Cow-calf producers will be in the driver's seat the next few years, says Topper Thorpe, Cattle-Fax executive vice president. Smaller beef supplies should result in improved prices for cattle feeders, as well.

The familiar challenges of lagging demand, growing supplies of competitive meats and international uncertainties will modify the upside potential on profit for the year, however, Thorpe says.

Two unexpected conditions helped muddle the 1999 expectations, Thorpe says. Feedlot carryover in 1998 was 35% above the five-year average, and slaughter weights were also higher than projected. This added an extra 856 million lbs. of beef in 1998.

Cattle were fed longer because feeders thought the market would get better, Thorpe says. 'This added 16 million pounds of beef a week just from that extra weight,' he adds. This factor alone cost the industry $3-4/cwt., after factoring in a $2-3/cwt. lower offal market in the global marketplace, he says.

The feedlot carryover will decline a bit in early 1999, but will still be relatively large, Thorpe says. Total beef production will be down 3-4% this year, contingent on what happens to slaughter weights. But competitive meat supplies will likely be steady to 1% higher, putting total meat supplies steady to 1% higher this year.

'This is a challenge we must watch the rest of the year,' Thorpe says. '2001 should be close to cattle cycle lows.'

Fed cattle prices should average $66/cwt., with summer lows at $63-64, then back to the upper $60s, says Cattle-Fax analyst Randy Blach.

Meanwhile, the calf price outlook looks favorable. Blach doesn't see weakness in calf prices into the grazing season. 'A lot of you retained ownership and they are pretty good property today,' he says.

But calves won't get to the $100-105/cwt. levels of the late '80s and early '90s, Blach adds. He projects prices on 500- to 550-lb. calves this year in the high $80s to low $90s, depending on location.

Of cow/calf operations, 75% of operations will be profitable this year, compared with 50% last year, Blach says. High-return producers have averaged $54/head profit over low-return producers since 1980.

Under The Skin

Finally, there's general agreement that data generated by ultrasound on yearling bulls to predict carcass traits on their slaughter progeny is as accurate, and much faster, than collecting carcass data in the packinghouse. As a result, using ultrasound data to calculate carcass EPDs (expected progeny differences) has breed associations signing up.

The American Angus Association (AAA) began collecting such data in January, says John Crouch, AAA director of performance programs. Their first set of carcass EPDs from ultrasound will be published this fall.

The Angus program is called 'Triple A Cup,' for AAA Centralized Ultrasound Processing laboratory (AAACUP). The program originated two years ago when AAA officials, concerned about the accuracy of image interpretations, asked Iowa State University (ISU) scientists Doyle Wilson, Gene Rouse and Scott Griener to develop a centralized processing laboratory. Its staff would interpret ultrasound images.

Under AAACUP, a breeder selects a qualified technician from a published list who comes to the ranch and collects ultrasound images on yearling bulls, heifers or their progeny. The images go to the ISU laboratory in Ames, IA. There, Craig Hays and his technical staff interpret all images for ribeye area, rib and rump fat thickness, and intramuscular (IM) fat (marbling). The data goes back to the association where age adjustments are calculated.

Brangus Was First In 1995, the International Brangus Breeders Association (IBBA) was the first to publish a carcass EPD for ribeye area based on ultrasound measurements of yearling bulls. Fat thickness and IM fat EPDs were published on their Web site a few weeks ago, according to Loren Jackson.

Last fall, the American Hereford Association (AHA) published its first genetic analysis using ultrasound as a supplement to its sire summary. It was a multiple-trait animal model combining weaning weight, fat thickness, ribeye area and percent IM fat EPDs. Some 9,500 yearling cattle, mostly bulls ranging in age from 330 to 430 days -- adjusted for age and age of dam -- were measured to procure the data.

Until now, most ultrasound research has been on English cattle. That will change soon as other breed organizations, including American International Charolais, North American Limousin Foundation (NALF) and American Simmental, get on board.

'We're in the process of getting organized to collect ultrasound data,' says Robert Williams, Charolais director of breed improvement. 'Hopefully, we can do it one to two years.'

The NALF board of directors recently voted to develop centralized processing services for its members. 'AAACUP is what we want to work through,' Kent Anderson, director of education and research, says.

Anderson likes the idea of centralized processing. 'It would be easier if all data came in the same format so we could process it electronically rather than hand-punch it,' he says.

The association has calculated experimental EPDs for the three traits on a couple of thousand records, but hasn't decided when to publish them.

'If we could add another 2,000 records on yearling bulls, females and steers, we could publish it as early as next fall and perhaps put out a research report later this spring on some of our more accurate bulls,' Anderson says.

Simmental officials say the depth of their records will determine their entry. 'Our goal is to eventually merge ultrasound with actual carcass data into one evaluation,' says research director Bruce Cunningham.

Two Options With Ultrasound

Currently, breeders have two options:

*AAACUP with its centralized processing, or

*Individual technicians certified in one of the AUP (Association of Ultrasound Practitioners) training schools for one or more of four procedures: fat thickness measured at the 12-13th rib, rump fat, ribeye area and percent IM fat.

This new centralized processing concept has raised discussion about who should process the images. So far, Angus, Limousin and Simmental use AAACUP; Brangus and Hereford use individual certified technicians.

AAACUP doesn't require every technician to be AUP certified, but they'd like to see them go through the school, says Wilson. 'It's good training,' he adds. 'With centralized processing, if someone has a problem on a trait, we can correct it because we oversee every image they collect.'

Wilson advocates centralized processing for two reasons:

*Improving the uniformity of interpretation and quality checking of technicians, and

*Data collection and identification of contemporary groups.

'It is critical that the image is selected properly and processing done correctly,' he says. 'We have trained people to do that quickly and efficiently.'

Kansas-based Matthew Lane was one of 14 certified on the Aloka 500 with its 17.2 transducer and Critical Vision software for all four. He's also on the AAACUP list and has qualified under CPEC (Cattle Performance Enhancement Company), a system designed by scientist John Brethour of Kansas State University. CPEC is used primarily for sorting feedlot cattle to a common slaughter endpoint.

Lane scans cattle from Texas to Montana using both systems. He thinks AAACUP works well, but there's still need for AUP certification.

'I'd prefer a technician involved in this program also goes through AUP certification for a couple of traits,' he says. 'They would better understand what's involved when these images go to the lab for interpretation.'

University of Missouri animal scientist William Herring works closely with the AHA program. He believes ultrasound technology has improved and is cheaper than gathering carcass data. 'But it's still expensive,' he adds. 'Competition among technicians can keep costs down.'

As Good As Carcass Data Regardless of the discussion over procedures, there's general agreement that ultrasound techniques are as good as carcass data and visual grading.

Gardiner Angus Ranch has collected feedlot and carcass data since 1970. Today, they use ultrasound to measure backfat, ribeye area and percent IM fat on all yearling bulls.

'It lets us test thousands of bulls instead of hundreds as we did with carcass collection on progeny in the packing house,' says owner Henry Gardiner. 'We can find outliers in relatively short time.'

The ranch's goal is to produce genetically superior bulls for the commercial industry. The only criterion for improvement is knowing exactly how your cattle perform, not only through genetic selection, but in the feedlot and on the rail.

That same philosophy occurs at the 10,000-acre Camp Cooley Ranch near Franklin, TX. In 1993, ranch owner Klaus Birkel bought the well-known Brinks Brangus purebred herd at Eureka, KS.

The Brinkmans were among the first to use real-time ultrasound to measure backfat and ribeye area on yearling bulls and heifers. Klaus continued that program -- a contributing factor in IBBA being the first to publish ribeye area EPDs.

'Carcass merit is more important today than ever before,' says ranch manager Mark Cowan. 'But we believe if you don't keep that trait in balance with the other important economic traits, you're not helping your customers or yourself.'

The American Angus Association (AAA) has set up the following AAACUP guidelines for scanning yearling bulls:

*Contact John Crouch, AAA director of performance programs, at 816/383-5100 at least three weeks prior to scanning date for instructions and a list of certified technicians.

*Identify all animals to be scanned so barn sheets can be available at the farm or ranch the day of scanning.

*All yearling bulls in a contemporary group are scanned no more than two days apart at 320 to 440 days of age. Individual bull weights must be taken within seven days.

*Each bull contemporary group must have two sires represented. One must be a reference sire in the Angus structured sire evaluation program for carcass merit. Central-test scans will not be accepted unless bulls are maintained in their weaning contemporary group.

*The technician bills you for the trip to the ranch to get ultrasound images. This doesn't include interpretation of images, which is done in Ames, IA, at an add itional charge.

*Processing follows the same format used for weight traits with the Angus Herd Improvement Records. Ultrasound measures are adjusted to 365 days for yearling bulls, with end-point adjustments for developing heifers, feedlot steers and heifers at 420 days.

Heads Up--Locking headgates simplify A.I. and animal handling.

An idea from the dairy industry has made A.I. a little easier on the Green Mountain Red Angus ranch owned by Bob and Julie Morton and Jim and Shirley Morton at Three Fork s, MT.

Head stanchions or locking headgates, typically used to catch dairy cows in the milking parlor, have been installed along the Morton's concrete bunkline feeder. The locking headgates were put there to simplify the Morton's artificial insemination (A.I.) program. How does it work?

After weaning, heifers are fed out of the bunkline through fall and winter, without the stanchions being locked. This is done to acclimate the heifers to the headgates, Morton says.

Then, come spring, the stanchions are used to catch the heifers' heads at the bunkline, administer heat synchronization shots and three days later catch the heifers again to A.I. them.

It's a system that Morton says works well. The biggest benefit: 'they simplify management,' he says.

The Morton's installed the stanchions in the fall of 1993, and use them to breed about 40 heifers per year.

'The benefits far outweigh the negatives,' says Morton. 'You can use them to do almost anything to cattle -- A.I., vaccinate or tag.

The only disadvantage over a squeeze chute is that the cattle can move their rear ends around, he says. This makes delicate procedures, like treating pinkeye, nearly impossible, he adds.

Less Stress While the Morton's first installed the stanchions to create less work for themselves, the stanchions can also put less stress on animals if they are properly introduced to the lock-ups, according to animal handling specialist Temple Grandin.

'The way cattle react to headgates has a lot to do with how cattle are introduced to the headgates. If they are introduced properly, they'll be low stress. If they are introduced in the wrong way, it can be high stress,' Grandin says.

She says animals should be introduced to the headgates with food, not shots, so they have a positive experience.

'The first experience makes a big impression with animals,' she says.

Like the Mortons do, she suggests first feeding animals through the headgates and then gradually training them to be locked in the headgates for short periods.

'Cattle need to go through an extensive training period otherwise it's not going to work,' Grandin says. 'Beef cattle are totally trainable, but it must be gradual.'

In his experience, Morton says 'It takes a couple days for cattle to figure the stanchions out,' However, there are usually one or two that never do use them, he says. Morton also says the stanchions are not suited for wild cattle. 'If the cattle get too wild in the stanchions, they can knock them open.'

For Cows, Too The Mortons got the idea to use the stanchions for A.I. from another registered cattle breeder in Montana who also raised dairy cattle. He said they were a great tool for breeding all ages of cattle, says Morton.

The Mortons only use the stanchions for heifer calves, but larger sizes are available for larger animals. The heifer-size stanchions have six spaces in a 10- ft. span and cost about $31.50/space, according to Morton. Therefore, there is room for 60 heifers along a 100-ft. bunkline.

Their neighbor also uses the locking headgates for embryo transplant (E.T.) work. Donor cows are caught to administer necessary shots and for A.I. The Morton's are now considering installing some larger stanchions to facilitate their own growing E.T. program.

A bad year for scours

We finished calving mid-February, but the pace didn't slow much. Daughter Andrea and I walk through every group of cows and calves at night to check on them and doctor calves. For a time, this took from 12 to 4 a.m. Now that thecalves are older and have built more immunity, it only takes an hour.

Due to the mild winter, we've had more scours than usual. Almost every calf has been sick, many seriously ill. So far, we've been able to treat them all successfully.

We've had wet storms and inconsistent weather (warm-cold, windy and wet). January and February were more like March -- the worst month in this valley for sickness if calves are young.

It's the main reason we calve in January -- it's usually cold and dry with frozen ground, thereby providing a clean environment for baby calves. Dry cold weather is much less stressful than wet weather and mud.

Late Night Doctors Many folks in our area are having a bad time with scours, and losing calves. We haven't lost any, partly due to diligence and the willingness to give up sleep to check on them each night. We work hard to detect cases as soon as they occur, and give fluids every few hours to those in the sick barn.

Andrea and I catch and treat a lot of calves at night. A calf can be fine at evening feeding and seriously ill by morning. If we treat at the first hint of trouble in the night, we can help him recover faster, often without follow-up treatment or days of intensive care.

We consider any case of scours in a calf younger than two weeks as an emergency. We give them more frequent administration of fluids and electrolytes (every three to four hours rather than every six to eight hours). We bring these calves into the sick pens, or the sick barn if weather is bad.

We've been diligent enough to successfully treat every calf with oral fluids, not having to resort to IV fluids -- though two were so bad we had to have them under heat lamps in a walled-off corner of their mother's stall.

We had one serious case of pneumonia in a newborn calf unable to nurse his mother until he was a week old. Andrea and I milked his mother every six hours and fed him by stomach tube. The cow tolerated our milking her in the stall, as long as her calf was nearby and she had alfalfa hay to eat while we milked.

Treating 24 Hours Per Day Our son and daughter-in-law, Michael and Carolyn, have had a worse time with sours and pneumonia than we have. Andrea's husband Jim spent two weeks in Mackay helping them.

We sent lots of medications, kaopectate and liters of IV fluid down to Michael and Carolyn on the mail truck. For more than a month they were spending almost 24 hours a day treating calves.

March 2 was clear and cold so we took advantage of the good weather and got all our calves branded and vaccinated and the cows vaccinated and deloused again. We delouse them once in late fall and again before spring, since one treatment does not last all winter. It's often hard to find a good dry day in March, so we try to get the branding done early.

This week, Lynn and Jim are at Mackay helping Michael and Carolyn move their cows. They calved their herd with friends who had better calving facilities, but many things didn't work out as hoped, including the weather.

Due to the mild winter, the concentration of more cows in a small area made it a nightmare for scours. So they are now moving their cows back to Alder Creek, where there's more room and clean ground.

Lynn and Jim are down there blading snow (4-ft. drifts in the barnyard and corrals), hauling panels, getting ready to move the cows and calves in several trips with stock trailers.

Andrea and I are doing the feeding and doctoring here at home, and little Emily goes along with us in her car seat in the feed truck. She enjoys seeing the cows and baby calves.

Market is poised to jump

February brought improvement. Fed Choice steers in the Amarillo area moved up $2/cwt. by mid-month. Prices held steady there and ended February $3.50/cwt. higher than a year ago.

Feeder cattle and calf prices also fared better, though with considerably more volatility. For the month, 600- to 700-lb. feeder steers averaged $1.50/cwt. higher but stayed below the year-earlier level.

More On Inventory As I noted last month, the Jan. 1, 1999 cattle and calf inventory recorded 1% fewer head on farms and ranches than a year ago. Beef cows were also 1% lower and beef replacement heifers were off 4%.

These figures, along with a 1% smaller calf crop in 1998, strongly suggest a tight supply situation for 1999. Here are other interesting statistics from this same report.

* The number of cattle and calf operations totaled 1,115,650 -- down 3% from 1997.

* Operations with beef cows were down 2%; those with milk cows were off 6%.

* The largest number of beef cow operations were in Texas at 131,000 -- representing 15% of the nation. Next was Missouri with 59,000, then Oklahoma with 52,000. These three states accounted for 28% of total U.S. beef cow operations.

* Of all U.S. beef cow operations, 79% had less than 50 head; another 12% had 50-99 head. Only 0.5% of operations reported 500 or more beef cows.

* In contrast was the proportion of beef cows by size groups. For example, although they represent the largest number of cattle operations, those with less than 50 beef cows had only 30% of the cows. The largest cattlemen -- 500 or more cows (there are only 5,485 of them) -- accounted for 15% of inventory.

Cattle Feeding Picture Cattle and calves on feed for the U.S. slaughter market in feedlots with capacities of 1,000 head or more totaled 10.5 million head on Feb. 1. That's 3% below 1998 and 2% lower than January. The most cattle on feed were in Texas (2.66 million), with Nebraska recording 2.15 million.

Some minor revisions have been made in the 1998 cattle feeding estimates. While not major, they do alter the data somewhat.

Fed cattle marketings in January reached 2.02 million head -- a 2% increase over 1998 but 10% below December. Kansas had the most marketings with 4% more than a year ago. Texas was next but recorded no gain.

Placements of cattle and calves on feed into feedlots in January totaled 1.92 million head. That's 11% more than a year ago and 27% more than a month earlier. This quick and significant gain in cattle movement could cause problems six months from now.

Nebraska led in January placements with a 15% gain over last year. Texas increased 8% and Kansas 14%.

In January, placements of cattle and calves weighing less than 600 lbs. totaled 379,000. The 600- to 699-lb. group totaled 623,000 head. The 700- to 799-lb. group was 599,000 head; and the 800-lb.-and-greater class was 322,000. Each was a strong gain over the year-earlier figure, particularly in the lighter weight calves.

This report also offers good detail on feedlot marketings by size of operation. There were 102,000 cattle feedlots operating in the U.S. with capacities of 1,000 head or more. In 1998, these feedlots marketed 22,770,000 head of fed cattle. Just 45 lots, however, accounted for 27% of these marketings, and 60 more accounted for another 19%.

That means 105 feedlots handled 45% of all cattle fed by commercial feedlots in the U.S. With the current interest in packer concentration, these statistics are notable. 'Concentration' is apparently a word that applies to much of the beef cattle production level as well.

Heading Through Spring The cattle market seems poised to move to higher levels this spring. Improved fed cattle prices, plus expected reduced feedlot marketings in March-April, should allow continued fed cattle strength.

If increased feedlot placements continue to gain sharply (like those recorded in January), it could cause some supply problems as early as summer.

Feeder cattle and calf prices will likely continue to register higher levels through spring. Stronger fed cattle prices, fewer available feeder animals and the potential of further reductions due to ranchers holding back heifers, will force feedlots to pay more for replacements. This scenario is quite likely.

Since lighter calves will be more common, they might not capture as much of the price gains as the heavy weights.

Two-Way Street

You've read the ads, product literature and sought your veterinarian's recommendation. You buy the latest vaccine at a considerable increase in cost, yet your disease rate doesn't change. What went wrong?

Dee Griffin, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln veterinarian, says overall performance of vaccines rests on feeders' and producers' shoulders.

'Before incorporating the latest vaccine, look at the whole picture,' Griffin says. 'Consider these four criteria.'

*Does it fit the national Beef Qu ality Assurance (BQA) effort with subcutaneous administration and related tactics?

*Seek the vaccine history from the previous owner/manager. Try using the IRM/BQA herd health information transfer form. Most problems that occur in the first 30 days of feeding must be addressed before arrival. If it can't be fixed then, the best thing to do is prop up the immune system with modified live vaccines on arrival.

*Is the vaccine really needed? You can spend lots of money on diseases that aren't in your yard.

*If it is needed, is there third-party data to support product effectiveness?

'Even if the perfect vaccine is introduced tomorrow and it's not used properly, it won't work,' says Louis Perino, DVM and professor at West Texas A&M University. 'Vaccines must be used in a biologically logical method. When we reduce repiratory disease, we increase the overall health of the animal and reduce antibiotic use.'

No Miracle Cures Despite claims, few products produce miracle cures for any malady. That said, there are reasons some near-perfect products fail, Griffin says.

'The wrong diagnosis can be made,' he says. 'The majority of diseases affecting incoming feeder cattle share common symptoms during early stages of the disease such as sub-clinical acidosis that may mimic pneumonia. Vaccines can't fix a feed intake problem.

'Wrong timing is a killer. Prevention (vaccination) won't prevent disease if it has a head start. This happens often with sets of put-together, stressed cattle. A disease may be long out of the barn before the vaccine can close the door.'

Griffin adds disease complexity creates problems, too. Respiratory disease in particular is more involved than the few components available in vaccines. They help to give the calves' immune systems some ammunition to hold off the overt clinical disease.

Simple animal husbandry approaches are effective at moderating disease. Griffin says clean, dry, comfortable pens and proper feed management help high-stress calves make it through tough times.

'Little mistakes add up quickly, especially if you're not prepared to handle new cattle,' Griffin says. 'Working new cattle in the heat is a good example. Stressed calves shouldn't be handled after 10 a.m. when the low temperature for the day will remain above 70 degrees.'

Adjust To New Guidelines 'I'm excited about recent improvements that allow production of higher quality products and still provide disease prevention,' Perino says. 'Cytotoxin-based Pasteurella vaccines are a good example of how a vaccine targets the same tools bugs use to cause disease.'

However, management changes may go along with new vaccines.

If you're the least bit unsure about product use guidelines, ask someone. Besides your veterinarian, Griffin suggests using technical services personnel many companies provide.

'Many companies offer good products and we should use their technical staffs,' he says. 'Don't do business with companies who don't provide technical services folks with solid experience and education.'

Griffin adds these personnel and your veterinarian can make recommendations for change, if any are needed. Generally, he says the new vaccine technology is worth any management changes.

'Sick cattle require injectable medicine, creating the potential of residue and injection site damage,' Griffin says. 'They also experience inconsistent performance and lose money. Texas and Nebraska data shows sick cattle cost substantially more than money spent on treatment, or burial.'

'Better disease prevention equals safer food, more humane care and better profitability,' Perino says.

Improvement will continue because it has to. The relationship between the host and pathogens is dynamic. New pathogens are always emerging in different niches, and Perino says, no vaccine has yet reached its pinnacle.

Starved Profits

Producers who pay short shrift to parasite control in their reproductive factory can be tossing plenty of nutritional and management dollars down a worm hole.

'There's no question or doubt parasite control has an impact on young growing animals, replacement females and stockers. You lose money if you're not treating them for parasites,' says Alvin Loyacano, professor of animal science at the Louisiana State University (LSU) Agricultural Center's Dean Lee branch station in Alexandria. He explains that the impact and potential economic loss varies with the parasite pressures that exist in different parts of the nation.

In general terms, veterinarian Steve Wikse, a beef cattle clinician at Texas A&M University, says controlling internal parasites can boost daily gains 0.15-0.20 lb. in suckling calves, and 0.4 lb. in stockers. He says parasite control can increase gains in feedlot cattle as well, but response is variable. What may surprise some is the reason for these gains.

Feeding Cattle And Worms 'Our old dogma was that if we had enough groceries, we could feed the cattle and the worms, too,' says Wikse. For the record, the stomach worm Ostertagia ostertagi is the most destructive.

'In the past, we used to think damage to the walls of the abomasum (where parasites attach themselves) was all that worms did, interfering with the absorption of nutrients,' says Wikse.

However, based on recent research, much of it conducted by veterinarian Mark Fox at the Royal College of Veterinary Medicine in London, Wikse says 75% of the negative impact of internal parasites comes in the form of appetite suppression.

Immature parasites within the glands of the abomasum increase gastrin production, which ultimately reduces rumen motility. In other words, consumed feed passes through the system more slowly, so that parasitized animals consume as much as 75% less feed than those without internal parasites.

'The other 25% of the detrimental effect is due to direct damage to the abomasum from the worms when they burst out from the glands. This causes hemorrhaging and a loss of protein.' The net result is an inflammation to the folds of the abomasum. That reduces nutrient absorption.

For perspective, in an ongoing LSU study (Table 1) heifers treated for both stomach worms and liver flukes gained more weight and achieved a higher body condition score (BCS) than heifers treated for only one of the parasites, or not treated at all. Most of the gains in the study have come from controlling stomach worms.

'Although liver flukes had no significant effect, the combined effect of worms and liver flukes does. Stomach worms are bad news, and any kind of stress makes it worse,' says Loyacano. In this case, the added stress was the liver flukes.

Likewise, Bill Kunkle, beef specialist at the University of Florida (UF) explains researchers have uncovered improved gains in a study there. 'There were definitely trends for higher pregnancy rates, higher body condition score and heavier weights,' says Kunkle.

The impact of weight on conception rates is straightforward. 'Puberty is more dependent on weight than anything else,' says Wikse. 'In animal science circles, it's commonly recommended that heifers achieve 65-70 percent of their mature weight when bred for the first time.'

Moreover, since a heifer's first two estrous cycles are low in fertility, Wikse says parasite control is critical to help heifers hit target weights early enough to be cycling at least a third time prior to breeding season.

Parasites Can Impact Cows, Too 'It's been easier to show that deworming increases growth rates in young animals,' says Wikse. 'It's been tougher to show the benefits in the cow.' In fact, researchers have found results all over the board when they try to find the reproductive benefits of deworming mature cows. Results have varied from zero response to significant benefits, based on the geographic area of the trial, the products used and the time of year products are administered.

One problem, mature cows build immunity to internal parasites. 'People say adult cows become immune, but it's not total immunity, and immunity varies between individuals,' says Wikse. He explains it takes two grazing seasons for females to build immunity against Ostertagia ostertagi.

That's one reason deworming is so critical to replacement females in the breeding pasture for the first time, when parasites are in full bloom, in a spring calving program, for example.

And, too, Wikse points out getting a handle on how deworming impacts fertility in clinical trials is tough because comparison groups of cows -- no matter how similar -- are managed in different pastures that have different nutritional planes, and they're bred to different bulls.

With these challenges in mind, veterinarian Owen Rae, a professor in the UF College of Veterinary Medicine says, 'I'm not sure parasite control has an impact on reproductive efficiency (in cows). Even in Florida, where parasites are a major challenge for growing cattle, I just don't see the difference in mature cows.'

He recommends once-a-year cow deworming to producers in his state, but doesn't think you can put a finger on the fertility benefits to be had from the practice.

Loyacano explains, 'It's one of those areas where I don't know if I can show an effect from treatment, but I wouldn't advise not treating them.' He also encourages cattlemen in the state to deworm at least once each year, maybe twice, depending on the coverage of the product.

'If you're using a product that will also give you lice and horn fly control, it will make it (multiple dewormings) more economically feasible,' says Loyacano.

In LSU's ongoing comparison project cited earlier, heifers pregnant with their second calf are moved to another project comparing the impact of treating stomach worms and liver flukes in mature cows. Through five years, a similar trend can be seen, with females treated for both parasites posting the highest gains and BCS (Table 2). The fact that pregnancy rates don't follow the same trend in the study may speak to the challenges described by Wikse, comparing cows in different pastures bred to different bulls.

Perhaps more telling is the fact that progeny from cows in the study treated for both parasites produced calves with higher weaning weights. Specifically, increased calf performance underscores some of the collective benefits of BCS, which can be impacted by parasite control.

BCS Power 'The biggest problem with achieving production profits in U.S. beef cow operations is low pregnancy rates,' says Wikse. He explains BCS, bulls and bugs impact conception rates. 'Of all of those, inadequate body condition is the most common reason cows don't get pregnant, and one of the causes for deficient body condition is parasites.'

Time and again, research and practical experience have proven cows with adequate body condition have higher conception rates and wean heavier calves by breeding back sooner and calving sooner than cows in poor condition. Cows with adequate condition also produce more milk, which adds to heavier calf weaning weights.

'Through better nutrition and parasite control, if you can get a better body condition score, you can get more income through better pregnancy rates and higher weaning weights,' emphasizes Wikse. In some trials, he explains deworming adult cows has enabled them to maintain a higher BCS than cows that weren't dewormed.

In fact, deworming has been worth 0.75-1.0 BCS in some studies. Wikse explains a single BCS accounts for a 75 lb. difference in weight. Multiply BCS gains through parasite control by the economic difference Wikse found between BCS 4 and 5 in a Texas A&M study (see Body Condition Economics), and the cash register starts to ring.

'In some of these trials, it looks to me like improving BCS by deworming cows twice could bring back $62-83 per head, and would have cost you maybe $15 for the medicine, plus the cost of working them,' says Wikse.

Wikse emphasizes that the geographic area has a great deal of impact on the benefits ranchers will see from deworming adult cows. In fact, since results of deworming cows vary with geography, the drug used and the time of year it's administered, he says it's difficult to make blanket recommendations for all herds.

But, if producers understand the parasite burden in their operations and how it can impact body condition, they can boost returns through effective parasite control.

With that in mind, he explains, 'A rancher needs to base his decision on clinical response trials done in a similar region or based right on his ranch.' In his practice area of East Central and South Texas where the Bermuda grass is a parasite paradise, he has no qualms about recommending cow deworming in early summer, then again in the late fall.

Bottom line, Rae suggests, 'Producers need to work with a veterinarian to see what parasite burdens they have with different groups of cattle.' Then, construct a strategic battle plan based upon information specific to that part of the world.

As usual, there are no magic bullets capable of capturing profit with a single shot, but Wikse explains, 'Some ranchers are missing the boat by not having an effective parasite control program.'

Management tools can be powerful without being complicated.

'The value of body condition score (BCS) is that it is an accurate measure of the energy status of a cow herd, and it can easily be taken by a rancher,' says veterinarian Steve Wikse. He's a beef cattle clinician in Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

He explains the power comes in the fact that cows with proper body condition at calving time achieve first estrus in a shorter period of time following parturition, have higher conception rates and produce heavier, healthier calves at weaning time. All of that comes from giving cattle the nutrition they need, when they need it, and parasite control as measured with BCS.

'The most important time of year for cows to be in good condition is at the onset of calving. It's recommended that mature cows be at a BCS of 5.5, and first-calf heifers be at a BCS of 6.0,' says Wikse. If you're not familiar with it, the visual BCS scale ranges from 1 (very thin) to 9 (obese).

Wikse explains, 'The most important time of year to evaluate BCS is at the onset of calving because BCS at calving has a higher correlation to pregnancy than at any other time of the year, including the day you turn the bulls out with them.'

He says other strategic times of the year to evaluate BCS are at the beginning of breeding season, the middle of summer and during pregnancy checking.

'The middle of summer is a time when a producer can make a management change if body condition is getting too low,' says Wikse. As an example, if the pickings are run ning slim, a producer has a chance to wean calves early or start supplementing cows.

Likewise, Wikse says evaluating BCS when cows are checked for pregnancy can pay dividends. 'The fall is important in a spring calving herd, as an example, because at preg-checking time, the calf is usually weaned and there are still at least three months before the onset of calving. So, you can feed the cows that are thin and still bring them up to a body condition score of 5.5 before calving,' says Wikse. He recommends sorting the thin cows off and feeding them separately.

What's all of this worth? Judging by similar results in studies conducted by Wikse and by University of Florida researchers Owen Rae and Bill Kunkle, the economic impact of increasing herd BCS to appropriate levels could change the profit picture in a hurry (Table 3).

Leveling Demand--New consumer programs have strengthened beef demand

For the first time since 1970, the downward shift in beef demand is slowing. 'That's the most encouraging thing I've seen in 20 years,' Wayne Purcell, Virginia Tech economist, told attendees of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) Convention in Charlotte, NC, in February.

Purcell credits the trend to new consumer-oriented programs funded by beef checkoff dollars. The innovative new product programs launched last year will continue on television, print ads, special promotions and work with food processors and retailers. 'The modern consumer will pay the kind of prices for quality, consistency and convenience that will make producers a profit for a change,' he adds.

Falling demand has been a major concern. Beef's market share dropped 34% since 1976 -- from 60% market share to a projected 26% by the year 2001. During that same period, per capita consumption of ready-to-cook poultry doubled and looks to grow another 5-6% in 1999. Per-capita pork consumption is down 11 lbs. since the mid-'70s, but is expected to grow 5-6 lbs. in 1999.

In the 1980s, the emphasis was to reduce costs and boost efficiency in the production-marketing system, notes Purcell. This was necessary for economic survival.

But something more is needed today, he says. That's a new approach -- become consumer-oriented and develop new products that meet the on-the-go lifestyle of convenient meal preparation. 'If not done, beef will continue to lose market share with a major loss in 1999, mostly predetermined,' he warns.

A broad-based Beef Demand Committee, headed by Paul Genho, Kingsville, TX, went to work. They identified five primary drivers of demand as being: food safety; palatability; health and nutrition; consumer-friendly products; and cost efficiencies and value enhancement. The group also concluded that no single driver will stabilize demand. All must be addressed.

With this background, NCBA and checkoff officials have launched a broad program to capitalize on consumer trends and increase carcass values:

*Develop creative beef and veal concepts using undervalued primal beef cuts like ground beef, chucks and rounds.

'The best way to add value to the chuck and round is through new product development,' says Lee Hall, Lexington, KY, cattleman and chairman of NCBA's Marketing Initiatives Committee.

*Promote versatile quick beef, beefy finger foods and deli-sliced beef to compete with other proteins.

'Consumers want meat products that don't require a lot of time and preparation,' says Carl Blackwell, NCBA director of new products. 'We're bringing new product concepts like these to jump start beef's presence in these underdeveloped categories.'

*Tell your story. New TV ad programs reenact the successful 'What's For Dinner' tagline featuring Sam Elliott. An 'Easy Beef' campaign in Nation's Restaurant News and other publications stresses quick heat-and-serve products that can be prepared in just minutes.

*A revamped 1999 National Beef Cookoff (Omaha, NE, Sept. 24-25) will challenge amateur cooks to create quick, easy recipes using round or ground chuck and various prepared meat products.

*Encourage restaurants that have developed long-term strategies to expand their core product lines with new center-of-plate items.

It's working. 'They're so popular, that we are now buying pre-cooked pot roast and smoked brisket products to keep up with demand,' says Alison Brushaber, director of research and development.