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Articles from 1999 In July


Vitamin Value

Investing between 50 cents and $1 per head in a receiving ration to save upwards of $4 per head on medical bills seems almost too appealing. The thought of handling one more ration may not be appealing. But, if it can pay for itself, it's worth considering, especially if it reduces the incidence of shipping-related sickness.

Researchers at Oklahoma State University (OSU) say that adding sufficient levels of Vitamin E to receiving rations lowers medical bills, morbidity and mortality. Furthermore, response to the first treatment is greater than with calves not supplemented with Vitamin E.

Don Gill, OSU Extension beef specialist, says trials were conducted on cattle bought in Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. Control groups were fed a standard receiving ration while remaining groups were fed 2 lbs. of supplement that included 1600 IU/head/day of Vitamin E. Unlimited prairie hay was available to both groups.

Gain of calves receiving Vitamin E increased during the receiving period and the number of sick pen days were lower (Table 1).

"What we generally see in stressed or receiving cattle is that they may arrive with normal levels of Vitamin E," Gill says. "However, after five to six days in the feedyard, the level of Vitamin E has plummeted to nearly nothing, yet we don't know what causes it.

"We tried feeding Vitamin E at 100 IU per day but it did nothing. We then increased it to 1,600 IU per day and noticed an improvement in the first 28 days.

"Even a small reduction in morbidity pays for the cost of the vitamin," Gill adds. "In these experiments, the enhanced performance consistently shows up." Cattle fed Vitamin E also experienced higher daily gain, fewer sick days and slightly higher response to the first treatment regimen.

"Vitamin E cattle exhibited improved gain per pound of feed consumed," Gill says. "In fact, with the better rate exhibited in these cattle and at current feed costs, this alone could reduce these costs as much as $8.44 per head."

Vitamin supplementation resulted in just under a 1/3 lb./day increase combined with slightly fewer sick days. Morbidity remained about the same, yet mortality was more than 50% less.

How It's Done "This implies the thing every feedlot manager hates - another ration," Gill says. "However, it's more palatable when considered as a short-term feed treatment that'll be discontinued after 14 days.

"It can seem difficult adding to feed costs, but our working habits make it too easy to inject a $4 shot into a calf instead," Gill says. "If we feed 1600 IU/head/day of Vitamin E for 14 days, we've spent about 70 cents/head. And, if that 70 cents reduces the incidence of $4 injections, we're easily money ahead."

Using real-world examples, Gill cites a set of 108 heifers that, based on a 400-lb. arrival weight, received $3.72 worth of vaccinations and medications upon arrival. The per-head medical treatment costs on this set ran $5.62. A morbidity reduction of just 15% is worth 85 cents/head, he says.

Vitamin E supplementation can be an effective complement to a stocker/feeder program, Gill says.

"Whether you use the VAC-45 program or another one, if you give calves 45 days to get straightened out and ready for the feedyard, you probably won't experience a lot of morbidity," he says. "Moreover, adding Vitamin E to a short-term receiving ration lowers the possibility of morbidity even more once the calves are in the feedyard.

"If we could reduce drug use by better nutritional fortification, we could make beef a better product," Gill says. "On top of that, we may be enhancing product value by providing consumers with beef that could have a higher Vitamin E content. It certainly could be worth the investment to find out."

Incentives grow for calf health

If preconditioning calves - either with a specific preweaning health program or weaning and 45 days of backgrounding on top of such a program - guaranteed a profit, everyone with two acres and a calculator would be hunting cows. As it is, adding value to calves through health management can at least boost a herd's performance and market immunity.

"It's a totally different way to market your management," says Ron Gill, livestock specialist for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service (TAEX). He's seen the challenges and opportunities of preconditioning first-hand with the producers he serves and with his family's own ranching operation.

"I see people spending $45-60 on a calf in a 45-day preconditioning program. I don't see how you can get it to return that much," says Gill. Conversely, when the cost of nutrition is reasonable, Gill's family has been able to wean and background calves 45 days for $25-27, including labor, interest and opportunity cost. In return, he says there are short- and long-term benefits.

First, weaning and straightening out calves should offer more pounds. John McNeill heads up the TAEX animal science program. He explains the 11/2-lb. average daily gain possible during those 45 days of backgrounding can pay for the $18-35/head such a program can cost. That's before you consider shrink.

"The only way I've found to get paid for it is to take them to the sale barn," says Gill. "We measured the shrink from the ranch to the sale barn (hauling them Saturday for a Monday sale). When they were sold, shrink was less than 1 percent. A lot of cattle sold off cows and sent to the sale barn can have shrink as high as 10-12 percent."

Even with the pencil shrink of direct sales, health can pay its way. That's because a growing number of buyers are willing to give more for calves with a health history, as long as they know the history and can buy volume.

"Our value-added calf program continues to grow every year," says Paul Branch, business manager of Superior Livestock, which markets over a million head of cattle each year via its national video auctions. Better than a third of the 375,000 calves they marketed last fall were the product of Value-Added Calf (VAC) programs (Table 1).

Branch explains VAC-34 calves are the most popular for buyers and for sellers who don't have the facilities or forage to wean and hold calves for at least 45 days. On average, buyers paid $1.61/cwt. more for those calves compared to unvaccinated calves.

Incidentally, Gill says weaning calves and holding them for fewer than 45 days dilutes the health benefits in the calves. And, it makes it tougher for cow/calf producers to realize potential weight gains.

With that in mind, buyers are willing to pay more for weaned, backgrounded calves. Last year, Superior buyers gave an average of $3.89/cwt. more for these VAC-45 cattle than for unvaccinated.

If producers have the facilities and the forage, but don't want to accept the additional risk of weaning, Gill says some buyers are willing to pay for the calves off the cow, then pay a fee for the owner to background the cattle. "The other thing we saw - especially in a down calf market like in 1996 and 1998 when a lot of calves come up with health histories that only include a 7-way Blackleg injection - you have to beg people to bid," says Branch. "The no-sale percentage of unvaccinated calves is significantly higher than our value-added calves in a down market."

Although buyers want to purchase the best they can for the lowest possible price, some will spend more for healthy calves. McNeill, who also heads up the Texas Ranch to Rail program, says that over five years, on average, the healthy cattle in the program were worth $93.20/head more than cattle that got sick. Said another way, sick calves were worth $16.32/cwt. less as feeder cattle.

Moreover, Gill points out the pound and dollar benefits come to cow/calf producers after the flexibility weaning and preconditioning can offer overall herd performance.

"Some people don't realize they can often wean earlier and use backgrounding to manage the body condition score (BCS) of cows," says Gill.

When groceries are scarce, early weaning can help maintain BCS, which leads to increased pregnancy rates and number of calves weaned, he says. Plus, Gill explains straightening out the calves means more market flexibility.

Bottom line, managing health could be the easiest money a producer ever makes on a calf. At the very least, competition and benefits mean the options should be penciled each year.

Calves remain in a favorable position

The cattle market held extremely steady during May. Choice fed steers in the Amarillo feedlot area didn't vary much over a dollar throughout the month. They began June at about $66 cwt., with little resistance.

Feeder cattle prices also were fairly level in May. Heavyweight animals, however, were scarce and quotations on them in the Southern Plains were difficult to obtain. During a few of the weeks, there were not even enough 6- to 7-weight feeders to get prices on them.

USDA Sees Delayed Expansion Here are some excerpts from the latest Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Situation Outlook released by USDA on May 25.

"Cattle inventories have been declining since 1996. In the short run, liquidation adds to beef supplies through slaughter of female stock - cows and heifers - while reducing future supplies.

"First-quarter slaughter and feedlot statistics strongly suggest that herd expansion will be delayed until more heifers are bred in the year 2000. Beef supply increases will be offset to some extent by larger beef exports. However, production won't decline and prices won't strengthen until late 1999 and the start of herd rebuilding.

"Increased competition for a reduced slaughter inventory will lead to stronger cattle prices, with larger increases for female stock and stocker-feeder cattle. Fed cattle price gains will be held down by the very large and expanding supplies of competing meats."

The USDA's predictions on the longer run future are illustrated by these paraphrased comments:

Projected per capita beef consumption levels during 1999 appear to be down about 1 to 2 lbs. from the 1998 peak. Most of the decline should come in the second half of this year. By the year 2000, beef supply reductions suggest per capita beef consumption will be down to 63 lbs., the lowest since the early 1990s.

Retail Choice beef prices in the first quarter of this year averaged $2.77/lb. and may end up averaging about 4 cents higher than last year. Choice beef retail prices are expected to be about $2.86/lb. in the year 2000.

Fed cattle prices averaged $61.48/cwt. in 1998 and will likely average $64-66 this year. Prices are expected to range in the mid-$60s for the rest of the year but may average near $70 late in 1999. Further supply reductions will be necessary in 2000 before prices can move into the $70s.

Yearling feeder cattle prices are likely to average in the mid-$70s for the rest of this year. That's nearly $15 above 1996 when high grain and droughts triggered heavy liquidation costs.

On-Feed Numbers Fell Cattle and calves on feed for the U.S. slaughter market on May 1, 1999, in feedlots with capacities of 1,000 head or more totaled 10.02 million head. That was 3% above a year ago but 4% less than the month-earlier figure.

States recording the largest percentage gains were Colorado, Iowa, South Dakota, New Mexico and Nebraska. Kansas and Oklahoma actually had fewer cattle on feed than a year ago.

Fed cattle marketings in April reached 1.9 million head, up 3% from a year ago and slightly under the previous month. Almost every state recorded exceptionally large gains over a year ago with South Dakota, California and Colorado leading the pack.

Numbers of cattle and calves placed on feed was again the most significant statistic in the report. In April, placements were 1.7 million head, up 5% above a year ago. While this was down from the March level, it still represents the fourth month of higher-than-a-year-ago levels and the largest April placements in recent records.

With January up 11%, February up 20% and March up 18%, the 5% increase in April - while less critical - could still foretell major beef supply problems later this year.

As expected, the number of available heavier feeders has been declining sharply. Thus, the number of cattle and calves placed on feed by weight groups has shifted toward the lighter weights.

Calves weighing less than 600 lbs. were up 22% from a year ago. The 600- to 699-lb. class was up 11%, and the number of feeders 700-799 lbs. stayed the same as a year earlier. The heaviest weight feeders, those 800 lbs. or more, were down 1% below last April.

The "Other Disappearance" category of the cattle on feed data represents death losses, movements from feedlots to pastures, and shipments to other feedlots for further feeding. This April figure of 104,000 represents a 13% increase over a year ago and 46% more than in March. The largest gains came in Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Washington.

The Market Outlook Interpreting the likely beef supply situation later this year is difficult. USDA is expecting beef production to remain near above-year-earlier levels through midsummer, then decline 2-4% below a year earlier in the second half of the year. Thus, their forecasts anticipate a gain in fed cattle prices of about $1 to 3/cwt. in the second half of the year over the first.

My analysis focuses on the extremely large feedlot placements of January through April, which seem to signal fairly heavy fed cattle marketings 6-8 months down the road. If this does happen as expected, it may be difficult to even hold fed cattle prices at their current levels much beyond the summer months.

Feeder cattle and calves will still remain in a favorable position. Feedlot breakeven levels are moving up only slightly, providing a continued strong demand for replacements. Available supplies of calves, on the other hand, are staying quite tight. Returns to cattle feeders have moved back into the black and the situation remains bullish. Feeder prices should continue strong.

Untapped resource

In a perfect world, large animal veterinarians would engage in long-range business planning to shape their practices. They would also call on lots of experts to help turn their practices into finely tuned business machines. In reality, they usually don't, a BEEF magazine survey found.

Two-thirds of the veterinarians surveyed by BEEF don't have a written business plan. Of the one third that do, less than half turned to outside experts for help in developing their plan. And of these, only about one in four used a veterinary consultant or other certified business analyst to help shape their plan. The rest turned to more traditional sources, such as bankers and accountants.

This flies in the face of advice put forth by business consultants, who maintain veterinarians need all the help they can get on the business side of their practice.

"A good resource team for a veterinarian includes a banker, a tax accountant, a financial planner (for investment and retirement funds) and an operational consultant," says Thomas Catanzaro, head of Catanzaro Associates, a Colorado-based veterinarian consulting firm. "Once we get past one-doctor practices, a corporate attorney should be added. Not just any attorney, but one who understands professional corporations."

Veterinarians don't shun consultants entirely. About 40% said they had an ongoing relationship with a business consultant. But many veterinarians use consultants sparingly to answer an occasional business question.

One apparent reason for the limited use of consultants is the cost. Extensive use of veterinary consultants can be quite expensive, especially when the cost is spread over just one or two veterinarians. Nearly two-thirds of the veterinarians in the BEEF survey were in practices with one or two veterinarians.

What do these findings mean? Overall, the survey shows many veterinarians go from one year to the next with no formal long-range goals or plans and little outside expertise to find problems in their practice.

Still, many veterinarians feel there are good reasons for adopting a long-range plan. "You can't get something - a goal - if you can't measure where you're at," says Cory Witham, an Iowa veterinarian who wrote her business plan with the help of her brother, who has a degree in marketing, business and entrepreneurship.

The lack of advanced planning found at many practices doesn't mean, however, that veterinarians aren't concerned about their future, or with problems that impact their business. Many veterinarians told BEEF they had concerns about getting paid, the profitability of their practices and their cash flow.

They also worried about the short-term health of the beef industry. In fact, when consultants were asked to cite the two most pressing problems facing their practices, many cited problems with the beef industry, including slumping demand for beef, beef quality, low prices and falling consumer confidence in the product.

They also worried about factors reshaping the economic world in which cattlemen and feeders compete. Among other things, veterinarians cited foreign competition, competition from chicken and pork, and consolidation in various stages of the beef industry, including meat packing.

Why the concern? The most likely answer is that large animal practices stand to lose if the beef industry shrinks or if low beef prices render ranchers and feeders unable to afford a full line of veterinary or nutrition services. One respondent said his client base had eroded because of the low number of ranches. Another remarked that low beef prices have impacted preventive care used by his clients.

In the worse case scenario, specialists won't get paid at all. Take the situation in northern Iowa where Cory Witham runs her veterinary practice and her husband owns a feedmill and does animal nutrition work.

"He'll go out and remind them that it's time to pay us and they usually say 'OK,' " she says. "Unfortunately, everyone's lost a lot of money on hogs and cattle and there isn't any money to go collect.

"A big concern is the state of the current economy. The media talks about how wonderful it is and that just doesn't match life in rural America. Everyone in Iowa is broke, broke, broke.

"The assumption that I started with is that things have got to get better and someone will have some money sometime. (But) of my husband's and my clientele, we've had 60 percent of them sell their farms in the last six months."

In the long term, however, veterinarians and nutritionists overwhelmingly expressed confidence in the beef industry's future. Asked if they were optimistic about the future of the beef industry, nearly 82% said yes. This may reflect the fact that the beef industry is cyclical. Today's hard times will eventually give way to higher beef prices.

Aside from short-term concerns about beef, veterinarians have another worry. Even as the beef industry is undergoing rapid change, so is the veterinary business. Younger veterinarians are entering the job market laden with college loans that often exceed $60,000. This could cause some veterinarians to shy away from large animal work where the pay is less than premium, the hours are long and the work itself is dangerous.

Already, some veterinarians forecast a shortage of large animal specialists in the near future. The changing face of veterinary school enrollment could help shift veterinarians away from large animal work. More and more veterinary students are women and some veterinarians are concerned that women veterinarians will elect small rather than large animal practices when they graduate.

In fact, the BEEF survey suggests a shift from large animal work may already have begun. Almost all of those responding to the survey were male, and there were few veterinarians under age 40. This suggests a shortage as older veterinarians retire.

Often, the problems of one type of small business are similar to those of another. With that in mind, BEEF asked consultant Lenny Libis, a specialist in health care practice management, to suggest questions that might help veterinarians improve the business side of their practice. Here are some of the points he raised:

* "Do you have a business plan? Do you just come into work every day or do you know where you are going?

* "Do you know what you want your business to look like in five years? Do you know who your customers will be in five years?

* "Can you develop economies of scale by growing? If you can't, why grow?

* "Do you have a method of finding out automatically about innovations in your field?

* "Do you have available credit for times of crisis or opportunity? If you don't have credit and a crisis hits, you might be in trouble. If an opportunity arises and you don't have credit, you might have to pass.

* "Do you or someone else review your profit and loss statement? The first thing I do when I go into a business is look at the balance sheet. A lot of times, they don't even know they are bankrupt."

What do veterinarians worry about? One of their leading concerns centers on employees. When BEEF asked veterinarians to list the two most pressing business management concerns facing their practice, employee issues surfaced more often than concerns about getting paid by their clients.

Veterinarians worry about finding enough staff. They worry about finding affordable technical assistants and finding lay staffers. They worry about training their staff, employee management and labor relations.

One veterinarian said he was concerned about "finding suitable people to work here." Another was concerned about "keeping good employees."

That puts veterinarians in the same boat as most other American employers. There often aren't enough good workers to go around. That problem may have been worsened in recent years by the booming American economy which gives quality workers, especially those with training, the ability to pick and choose where they want to work.

Several other trends surfaced in the BEEF survey. Few veterinarians cited inventory issues as a concern, while many cited concerns over collecting accounts receivable for goods and services.

In fact, veterinary consultants say both issues are important. "Many veterinarians could improve their profits without raising prices by improving their accounts receivable and inventory control," says consultant David Horn of Brakke Consulting. "Those are the big opportunities for most veterinarians to improve the profitability of their practice."

Time management issues were frequently cited by veterinarians as a pressing issue, though it isn't clear from their comments whether they were concerned about long hours or concerned that they weren't using their time effectively to maximize their income. Veterinary consultants say effective time management is one way to boost income.

If you ask veterinarians to list the most pressing issues facing their practice, you may get a very different answer than if you asked a veterinary consultant the same question.

For example, the BEEF survey found the most pressing issues facing veterinarians were in order of ranking - problems facing the beef industry, personnel issues, account collections, time management, client relationships, cash flow and profitability. Inventory issues ranked very low.

Veterinary consultants would agree that these are important issues. But they tend to see a much broader list of problem areas than the veterinarians they advise.

For example, veterinary consultant Marsha Heinke says typical problems facing veterinary practices also include:

U Lax inventory controls.

U Poor accounting systems to track income and expenses.

U Undercharging for veterinary services.

U Lack of advanced budget planning.

U Malpractice issues.

In the BEEF survey, veterinarians barely mentioned these issues or didn't mention them at all.

Wolf worries

It's been a cold spring - freezing hard at nights until mid-day. Usually we have grass by late April and can put cows on hill pastures to get them off the hayfields. This year we fed hay until turnout on the range (May 16). This set back the hay a few weeks, but it wouldn't have made much difference; the weather was too cold for the fields to grow.

We usually start irrigating in April, but this year snowpack in the mountains didn't start melting until late May. We're just now getting high water and finally got all the ditches turned on a couple weeks ago. The hay is growing, but won't be ready to cut until late July.

We had one breeding group in a pasture along the creek for a couple of weeks before they went to summer range, and most of the cows became covered with dry burrs. One of the cows in that pasture developed a sore eye, from a tiny burdock sliver.

This is a common problem when cattle come in contact with burdock. When the dry burrs shatter, the tiny particles drift in the air and can get into an eye - often sticking to the underside of the eyelid, creating an ulcer on the eyeball where the embedded sliver rubs against it.

This type of eye irritation became such a problem for us in the late fall and winter when pasturing these fields that we began trying to control burdock about 10 years ago. The dry burrs hang on the dead plants in the spring if they were not chopped earlier, and can cause eye problems. We brought her home and treated the eye.

We had a few warm days after putting the cattle on the range, then it started raining. We've had more than two weeks of rain, which really helped the grass. In spite of a late start, the bunchgrasses look good now, and it may be a very good year on the range.

Andrea, Carolyn and I moved the cattle in small bunches over several days. We like to move them in small groups, making sure we have pairs. That way no calves get inadvertently weaned.

On one day's gather we noticed a calf of Michael and Carolyn's that had a large swelling under its belly. We cut back that pair before we moved the groupinto the middle pasture and brought them home. Upon checking the swelling, Michael found it to be an abscess, which he lanced and drained, then flushed with iodine.

The abscess was in the navel area. Even though she had no obvious swelling earlier, it might have been a small, sealed off infection (picked up at birth) that suddenly got larger. It will clear up now, however, getting it open and drained.

Andrea and Carolyn are trying to ride every day to check on the cattle (and the range gates - which often get left open). We are worried about the wolves that have been seen in our area. One of our neighbors saw six wolves being turned loose on the range next to ours early this year, and four wolves have been frequently seen on our high range in upper Withington Creek.

Andrea saw one of them in our field last month while harrowing. We hope they don't stay in this area. The ranchers north of town lost so many calves last year that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Forest Service, Lemhi Cattle and Horse Growers Association, Defenders of Wildlife and several other parties have joined together in an expensive predator study, putting radio tracking transmitters - implanted at the base of the calf's ear - on 280 of the 700 calves that were turned out this year.

The people involved in the study hope to have a better chance of finding the remains of a killed calf before the evidence is carried off by scavengers and the tracks at the kill site are obliterated. The fatality has to be confirmed as a wolf kill by a FWS official before a rancher can be compensated.

This expensive project has already met with some degree of failure, however, since many of the calves' transmitters are not working properly. The wolf problem is just one more discouragement for ranchers trying to survive financially.

Can a consultant help your practice?

Everyone knows you have to spend money to make money. Perhaps no one knows that better than veterinarians who pay a small fortune for their education and then pour thousands of dollars into the sophisticated equipment required for modern veterinary clinics.

Yet many veterinarians still don't make much money. Should they then spend more, perhaps thousands of dollars more, for a consultant who may tell them they aren't very good at running a business?

Why should veterinarians be good at business anyway? They were trained to treat animals, not run a corporation. "Veterinarians spend eight years becoming a veterinarian and years more getting practical experience," says consultant Thomas Catanzaro, head of Catanzaro Associates, Golden, CO. "As business people, veterinarians have no experience."

The concept behind veterinary consultants is simple. The consultants, who are usually veterinarians themselves, are trained to spot problems with your practice. They often do it quickly because they see the same problems again and again.

"What we often see is a lack of money at the end of the month," says Catanzaro. "They see that lack of money as a problem, but they don't know what is causing the problem. The things they don't see because they're in the middle of the forest, we see almost immediately."

Pinpointing problems Help won't come cheap. For instance, at Catanzaro, one level of service offers long-distance telephone, fax and e-mail consulting at $105-135 an hour, charged in increments of one-tenth of an hour.

Or clients can opt for an on-site visit in which a member of Catanzaro's team spends about four days observing the practice. That's followed by monthly telephone checkups to see how the practice is doing. "I get to meet the veterinarians, see the clients and how the veterinarians do their business."

Catanzaro's charge for a one-year consultation, which includes the on-site visit, is $9,500, plus travel expenses, food and lodging for the visiting consultant.

Although the on-site visits are costly, consultants may be able to spot problems that would be difficult if not impossible to diagnose over the telephone, such as friction between members of a veterinary practice. "It's like a veterinarian looking for lameness over the phone," says Catanzaro. "You can't tell the cause of the lameness."

Although personnel issues often plague veterinary practices - the principals at one firm hadn't spoken to one another for four years - many problems consultants see stem from a lack of business and management skills.

For example, veterinarians often try to do everything themselves, using valuable time to do minimum wage chores, while passing up clients willing to pay top dollar for their professional services. Or they fail to control inventories, stocking too much of one medicine, too little of another.

Many veterinarians fail to organize their days so they can see as many clients as possible. This is especially true for large animal veterinarians who spend much of their time on the road.

Yet another problem - overdue accounts - can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. When veterinarians fail to collect debts promptly and don't levy overdue penalties, they are extending interest-free loans to their clients and taking a chance that the client may default on the bill. Meanwhile, the veterinarian loses the use of the cash which could be invested to generate income to buy new equipment or pay other expenses.

Taking advice For veterinarians willing to change their business practices, the benefits can be enormous. They will make more money, says consultant Marsha Heinke, of Owen E. McCafferty, CPA, Inc. And in the long run, she says, the practice will be worth more. There are also non-financial benefits, such as more professional satisfaction.

Yet many veterinarians reject the advice they have willingly paid for. "A lot of the time, they're not ready to make changes," says veterinary practice consultant David Horn of Brakke Consulting.

"Many consulting dollars are wasted by desperate practitioners randomly grasping for an easy solution to complex problems that have evolved over years of management neglect," says Heinke. "To use a consultant effectively, you must be committed to the direction of the practice you wish to obtain with the consultant's advice."

The consultant, in turn, must come up with suggestions that work. One recurring difficulty is overdue accounts. "A lot of the problem with accounts receivables is that there is no policy," says Horn. "Once or twice a year, the vet looks at his receivables and takes two or three of the guys that owe a lot of money and says, 'how about a check?'

"My philosophy is not to let it get to the collection point," he says. "We need to get paid for our services at the time we perform them. When you go to a store, you write a check or get out the credit card."

Horn suggests past due accounts can be reduced by offering incentives for early payment and by instituting a system to regularly contact clients about payments. But Horn offers a word of caution for veterinarians who offer discounts - say 5%, to encourage prompt payments. He says the lost income from discounts needs to be offset by raising prices on some other services. "You can't just give away five percent of your business."

While many problems fall into clear-cut categories, consultants sometimes find the unusual. The principals at one veterinary group could never figure out why they weren't making more money.

When Catanzaro Associates set up a system to see how many drugs each veterinarian dispensed, they discovered an associate veterinarian had been giving drugs away free. "He was an associate, so it didn't affect his fee," Catanzaro says. "The clients kept calling him back because he didn't charge for all the drugs. By the end of the third day, we realized what was happening. That's huge money."

Time management One of the biggest problems is wasted time. "Your typical veterinarian tries to do everything himself," says Catanzaro. But if they hire a technician-driver, they can work the phone and handle record-keeping while the technician drives to and from appointments.

This allows the veterinarian to see more clients in a day. And if the veterinarian writes up invoices immediately after seeing a client while the technician drives, he's less likely to forget to bill for all services performed, Catanzaro says.

A second way to save time is careful scheduling. This allows veterinarians to travel the most efficient routes to make calls, much like UPS drivers do. In addition, veterinarians should pre-load their trucks with all the equipment and supplies they are likely to need for the day's appointments.

"If you have to run back and forth to the clinic to get things, that's wasted time," says Horn.

Boiled down to its essence, the veterinarian's problem often stems from a lack of business skills.

"Most veterinarians don't learn business in school," says Horn. "They don't get training in business after they become business owners. They don't ever look at their business as a business."

Financially troubled veterinary practices often get out of difficulty the same way they got into it - a nickel and a dime at a time.

One way to generate those nickels is to find small ways to save cash to cover expenses. For example, many veterinarians make at least one annual trip for continuing education. But some veterinarians have found they can get their plane tickets to conferences free.

How do they do it? They earn free plane tickets by paying for many of the practice's bills with a credit card that earns frequent flier miles, says consultant David Horn.

This method requires some planning, however. If you run a balance on the credit card and pay interest as a result, it's a loser. Moreover, some vendors offer discounts for early cash payment that may more than offset the value of using the credit card to obtain frequent flier miles.

"You have to weigh the discount versus the value of the frequent flier miles you get," says Horn.

But in some situations, credit card payments may make sense. Plus, if you pay with a credit card, you have the use of your cash for an extra 30 days. During that time, you can invest the cash and earn interest on it.

Many modern veterinary practices have first-rate equipment, but they may not be using it effectively. That's especially true with computers.

"Most clinics are computerized," says Horn. "But most veterinarians don't know what computers are capable of doing and don't use computers to maximum efficiency." Take tracking inventory on computer. Most veterinary clinic software is capable of tracking inventory and having automatic reorder points.

"Each product would have its own re-order point. For some products, you might never have less than a month's supply. Other products, you would never want more than a week's supply because it's a commodity item available from a lot of places."

Inventory control helps many ways. For example, it helps to keep veterinarians from running out of products, especially medicines that are hard to get on short notice. And inventory control saves money by avoiding bloated inventories.

Range feeding vs. supplementation

Last month, we discussed how environmentalists mistakenly believe that wild animals do not respond to supplementation. Although many would not understand the distinction between range supplementation and range feeding, intuitively many groups who consider themselves "friends of wildlife" oppose range feeding.

This is where the philosophies of ranchers and environmentalists diverge sharply. Environmentalists have blind faith in Nature, and believe the intervention of man is "unnatural." This means that in national parks and other lands where hunting or cropping is not permitted, animal populations will expand until they exceed available forage, then starvation will occur.

In my opinion, anyone who can watch an animal starve to death is "sick." I also do not believe any of my rancher clients could watch an animal suffer like that.

The reality is that Nature is simply a series of random events that can lead to agonizing deaths. In some cases, man can prevent such suffering, and it seems intuitive that we have a responsibility to do so. The primary means, of course, is to manage ranges properly. When animal populations exceed capacity, ranchers either move animals to other pastures or to humane slaughter.

In the case of wildlife, hunting seasons should be allowed. When short-term emergencies occur, we can and should feed animals.

Supplementation Is Justifiable Feeding is different than supplementation. Feeding means supplying a substitute for the animal's usual forage. Supplementation means augmenting whatever is absent in the forage.

By definition, supplementation is economically justifiable. Without supplementation, animals will be protein, vitamin or mineral deficient. The cost is small compared with what would be the loss in performance.

Feeding is expensive compared to range forage, which should be the cheapest sustenance available. For that reason, feeding is reserved only for short-term emergencies (blizzards, etc.).

Drought is not a short-term emergency. Although as a nutritionist I design a lot of rations for maintaining (feeding) cowherds during droughts, as a consultant I always advise my clients not to do so. You never know when a drought will break, and it is not economical to purchase feed to maintain a 1,000-lb. animal - to produce only 400 lbs. of beef. Purchasing feed to maintain a cowherd causes more ranch bankruptcies than any other event.

The High Cost Of Ignorance The controversy in feeding wildlife, however, has nothing to do with cost. Rather, there have been instances in which inappropriate feeds were used.

The most well known is a case in which moose were allowed to go to the brink of death (by starvation), and at the last hour were helicoptered what was apparently dairy quality alfalfa hay. This caused what is commonly known as "protein poisoning." (Whenever an animal is in a starvation physiological state, high protein feeds can be lethal.)

The inference drawn in wildlife circles was that wild ungulates cannot be fed hay. The reality, of course, is that ruminants are all very similar.

Nearly 30 years ago, there were studies that showed similar digestion between deer, elk and domestic ruminants. (1, 2) Cattle can likewise be killed with excessive protein, but ranchers typically begin feeding when forage first becomes short, not when the animals are at the point of starvation.

1. Cowan, R.L., et.al. Comparative Nutrition ... A Research Symposium. USDA Misc. Pub. 1147, 1970. 2. Pearson, H.A. Rumen organisms in white tailed deer. J. Wildlife Mgt. 29:493-496.

Bustin' BRD

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then efforts to hammer bovine respiratory disease (BRD) before it gets started are worth their weight in gold.

"There is increasing concern about the industry's ability to successfully manage health costs in high-risk cattle," says veterinarian Charles Deyhle Jr. of Deyhle Veterinary Services in Canyon, TX. He explains, "BRD costs millions of dollars, and those are the costs we can see. The less apparent costs of reduced gain, conversion and quality grade are more difficult to visualize."

Moreover, Deyhle points out the BRD challenge has increased, in part, because improved genetics and nutritional management are bringing younger cattle to the feedlot that weigh as much as older peers in years past. So, the put-together sale barn cattle and the naive ranch-fresh calves, typically placed at the top of the risk list, can be even softer and more susceptible than before.

"We still don't have all of the answers on how to manage this," says veterinarian Bob Smith, a feedlot consultant with Palo Duro Consultation of Canyon, TX, who also holds the McCasland Chair in Beef Health and Production in the college of veterinary medicine at Oklahoma State University. He explains assuming BRD is the culprit behind a calf's droopy ears may be a high percentage bet, but the lack of effective chute-side diagnostic tools means some calves are misdiagnosed. As well, some cattle with subclinical disease are never identified and treated, robbing performance and profit potential every step of the way.

Cost, coupled with the challenge of creating one-size-fits-all programs for so many cattle entering a single operation from so many different sources, is why a growing number of feeders are working harder to stop BRD before it arrives at the feedlot.

"In reality, prevention is the key to minimize health cost and maximize performance of the different origins of cattle," says Deyhle. "The earlier the prevention, the more consistent the performance and the better the product will be."

Prevention By Preconditioning With that in mind, more feeders are using preconditioning with increased gusto.

"Looking at records, we feel holding cattle at least 45 days after weaning, before shipping, is probably as beneficial or more beneficial than a vaccination program," says Smith. Add effective vaccination programs prior to and after weaning, and Smith explains, "The calf has a chance to mount an immune response, while we're managing stress."

While preconditioning isn't a magic bullet that eliminates BRD, Gerry Smith, coordinator of Friona Industries' Hi-Pro Producer's Edge (HPPE) program says, "Generally we cut our death loss by at least a third, and you don't have as many chronics. Over the last few years chronics have been as much of an added cost as anything."

He's describing the performance of calves coming out of the HPPE program - which includes 45 days preconditioning with vaccinations before and after weaning - to calves coming out of the sale barn. He explains Friona customers typically place 35-40% of HPPE's calves in their yards. This year, 50,000 head will go through the HPPE program.

In terms of dollars, compared to sale barn calves, Gerry Smith explains HPPE calves have been worth $9-13/cwt. more heading into the feedyard. HPPE pays producers $8/cwt. beyond a pre-determined base price for putting calves through the preconditioning program.

For perspective, Dale Volmer, assistant manager of Friona's Randall County Feedyard at Amarillo - 68,000 head one-time capacity - says they used to figure with sale barn calves they'd have to pull 35-40%, and pencil in a 2% death loss. These days, pulls run 70-80%, and they pencil in 4% death loss. All told, a variety of factors have pushed average health cost on sale barn, non-preconditioned calves from $15-20 per head to $35-40.

"We figure that we're paying $45-50 more for a calf that has been preconditioned," says Gerry Smith. In return, these cattle offer lower morbidity, mortality and health cost, along with increased gain and conversion. Plus, he says, "Instead of going in day after day and pulling 150 head to treat, as an example, the feedlot crew can pay more attention to all of the cattle, not just the high-risk pens."

As well, Bob Smith explains, "A calf that experiences pneumonia in its life will gain 0.15-0.20 lbs. less per day than a calf that has not experienced pneumonia."

Richard Winter, manager of Randall County Feedyard says, "The problem with the industry is that we're bottom line driven, but we miss the forest for the trees. We focus so much on the front-end inputs, we often forget the rest of the story that we have to keep these cattle alive."

Although lower-priced higher-risk cattle are more attractive at times, he explains, "You may spend $3-4 less buying those calves, but you'll spend much more on the other end."

Indeed, Winter says results of the Texas Ranch To Rail program (Table 1) are representative of the bottom line improvement customers see when they make the commitment to precondition calves.

All told, Gerry Smith explains Friona brings few sale barn calves straight to the feedlot these days. "We know the benefits of the preconditioned calf, so if we buy high-risk calves, we'll put them other places first."

As an example, Friona converted a 5,000-head growing yard to a lot for straightening out calves. Friona also works with buyers who receive and straighten out high risk calves for them before shipment to their yards. Along the way, Friona managers like Winter tell customers about the trade-offs incurred by owning cattle with greater health risk.

Bottom line, Deyhle explains, "We believe cattle originating from preconditioning programs tend to have more complete respiratory vaccination programs, better nutrition, and have received more intense management prior to shipment. But, even in those cattle we still see some animal health challenges."

Getting Ahead Of The Risk Besides reducing risk before cattle get to the feedlot, some feeders are working more aggressively to control risk once cattle arrive.

At Randall County, Winter says, "If a customer isn't going to precondition, we at least try to find out the history of the calves and how they were handled. We may not mass treat the calves, but we'll take their temperature and give an antibiotic to those with an elevated temperature." They place those calves in an intensive care part of the yard with the most experienced pen riders.

Other times, treating an entire group, rather than waiting for the first one to break makes economic sense. "We've acknowledged we're getting softer cattle, often in excess numbers, and pressure on the labor force is ever-increasing. With the information we have available now, we feel like we can justify the mass medication of high-risk cattle," says Deyhle.

In a nutshell, the metaphylactic use of antibiotics - treating high-risk cattle with an antimicrobial before clinical symptoms appear - represents early intervention between prevention and therapy. Bob Smith explains studies have shown that metaphylaxis can reduce mortality and morbidity, while increasing daily gain by 10%.

While metaphylaxis offers opportunity, Bob Smith cautions, "One of the problems we face today as an industry - producers and veterinarians - is that we place so much of our confidence in chemicals, vaccinations and antimicrobials, when management plays equal or greater importance." In fact, he says, "I think the handwriting is on the wall that we will have to manage our cattle with less need for antibiotics. Using them in mass to cover up our mistakes will not be acceptable in the future."

That means increasing communication between industry segments to increase efficiency overall. "One of the things we are going to have to do as an industry is use the technology we have today, looking forward to the technology of tomorrow, applying it at critical times during a calf's life and minimize stress," says Bob Smith.

As an example, he explains there are benefits to the whole industry when producers spread stress over a calf's life, like castrating and dehorning calves at 2-3 months of age, then turning them back with their dams, rather than jerking them off the cows and doing everything all at once. Likewise, he says paying more attention to nutrition of the calf and cow herd, including trace minerals and vitamins essential to proper functioning immune systems, will pay the industry dividends.

And, Bob Smith says, "We need to use animal health products in such a way that enhances the beef product." In other words, the industry needs to continue its progress with beef quality assurance programs that include subcutaneous injections and intramuscular injections in the neck rather the hip, which can cause injection site blemishes in the top butt.

In the meantime, the luxury of providing healthy calves is quickly becoming a necessity for cow/calf producers. Winter believes high-risk cattle will become even more intolerable in the future. Besides cost and labor, he points out sickness increases weight variation, making it next to impossible to market cattle on a value-grid, much less, build a consistent product.

In fact, some feedlots already avoid high-risk types all together. "Especially farther north you're starting to see a lot of yards that won't bring in any sale barn cattle, other than yearlings," says Gerry Smith. "The guy that goes in and gets them preconditioned and weaned so they're less of a health risk opens up other markets."

Likewise, reducing BRD losses paves the way for industry progress. "The thing we're missing right now is the opportunity to capture these lost opportunities from the cow herd all the way to the packing house," says Bob Smith. "We all have to work together to produce beef as efficiently as possible, and as desirable to the consumer as possible."

Political Muscle

When it comes to political clout, ranchers shouldn't have much. After all, there aren't many of them, and their numbers shrink every year. Why should the powers in national and state governments give them a second look?

That's the essential political problem as the national elections for U.S. President and Congress loom roughly a year away. The outcome of those elections will help determine the direction of American agriculture in the 21st century. A few wrong turns and ranching could go the way of the U.S. sheep industry, which has shriveled during the 1990s in the wake of negative political decisions.

Yet many ranchers shun politics. "I often hear that all politics is dirty and bad and we can't have a part in it," says Phyllis Gardner, chairman of the political action committee of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).

But politics, she says, "is at the heart of everything we do. We're such a small minority and our futures are so controlled by government at every level, that we have to be active in the political process."

The cost of doing nothing is high. Critical issues involving international trade, food safety, the environment and taxation loom. In an industry awash in red ink, decisions on these and other critical issues could sink or save many of the nation's ranchers and feeders.

So what should you as an industry member do? Start by getting to know your representatives at the federal, state and local level. Getting to know them involves more than just asking for help when the crisis hits. Politics is a two-way street. You want something from the politicians and they want something from you.

Start By Giving Where do you start the relationship? One place is political giving. Money fuels today's political campaigns. It takes lots of money to buy the television ads that often swing an election.

As agriculture shrinks as a percentage of the voting base, political contributions become more important, says Gardner. Money can be used to cut two ways - to help candidates favorable to agriculture and to help defeat those opposed to it.

Politicians also need campaign workers. If you can't give money, give time to candidates favorable to agriculture.

"If you have never given your time or money to an elected official, they're probably not going to respond when you call," says Gardner.

Ultimately, politicians need votes. There aren't very many full-time ranchers. Politicians know that. But the voting power of the ranch lobby grows when you add the votes of spouses, retired ranchers, and friends and relatives sympathetic to ranching.

Even a small number of votes makes a difference in a close election. In the 1960 presidential race, for example, John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by about 120,000 votes out of more than 68 million cast.

Ranching's political clout can be magnified further by aligning with other agriculture interests, such as grain farmers, cattle feeders, equipment dealers, veterinary products companies and other allied industries.

Ranchers can gain even more clout by forming alliances with non-agricultural groups.

"Ranchers and farmers are a declining part of the electorate," says Chuck Hassebrook, program director for Nebraska's Center for Rural Affairs, an advocacy group for farmers and ranchers. "One of the ways we can maintain power, is to find other groups we can work with."

In many regions, for example, ranchers are aligning with environmental groups, outdoors councils and the powerful hunting and fishing lobby to keep open spaces free from development.

Ultimately, ranching will need a sympathetic ear from both political parties. For that reason, experts caution against putting all the eggs in one basket. Simply put, it may not benefit ranching if all ranchers are in the same political party.

"I don't think you're ever well served in politics if one party can take you for granted," says Hassebrook.

Target Your Efforts Since ranching has limited resources, it has to target its efforts. One area to pay particular attention to is the U.S. House of Representatives, says Chandler Keys, NCBA vice-president for public policy and lobbyist in Washington. The House is increasingly swayed by the whims of suburban voters, whose interests sometimes run counter to agriculture, particularly on water, air and endangered species issues. By contrast, "the Senate is much less of a problem (for ranching)," he says.

Ultimately, ranching and other agricultural sectors may have to take their case to the American people, who often forget the role that agriculture plays in the economy. Today, much of the American economy is thriving. But in agriculture, "everything that we're selling is losing money," says Gardner.

"That can only continue for so long before the rest of the country will begin to suffer. If we don't make money, we don't buy new equipment or make other outlays for capital improvement, and that eventually would affect the rest of the economy."

If none of this makes sense, talk to sheep ranchers about the cost of political weakness. In 1993, Congress eliminated the wool payments that were the difference between survival and collapse for many sheep ranchers. These payments, which came from tariffs on imported wool, helped to cushion low prices and the heavy losses to predators that many operators suffer. In the six years since the payments were eliminated, nearly a quarter of the industry's producers have quit, and breeding stock has dropped by more than 27%.

"There's no question that in 1993 we did not have the political clout to hold onto that program," says Bryce Reece, executive director of the Wyoming Wool Growers. "We pulled out every stop and used every political chit we had. But the steamroller that was coming down was more than anything we could do."

The bottom line for ranchers is that political clout comes from an investment of time, money and effort. Without clout, ranching could go the way of the sheep industry.

"We set up this system 200 years ago and it's all based on participation," says the NCBA's Keys. "What the founding fathers wanted Americans to do was participate in the process. And that's the point. If you don't participate, no one will look out for you."

Most ranchers follow the political issues that impact them directly. But there are good reasons to watch what happens to associated industries, such as farming, cattle feeding and meat packing.

One area to watch is the future of the Freedom to Farm Act, which mandates the elimination of the agricultural subsidy system that many corn farmers had come to rely on.

The corn markets impact feedlot profitability. Anything that impacts feedlot profitability impacts the price cow/calf operators get for their calves. While many farmers favor the new leeway provided by Freedom to Farm, others lament the loss of the financial safety net that the old subsidy system provided. Look for efforts to modify or scrap the act.

In addition, the feeding industry will likely come under increasingly tough environmental restraints that could also add to the cost of doing business. Meat packing is another area to watch. Tougher food safety requirements could raise packer costs.

The lesson here is clear. Trouble often rolls downhill. If packer and feeder costs go up as a result of government regulation, they will look for ways to minimize the financial damage. If they can't pass the costs up the line to retailers and consumers, they may look for ways to offset those costs by paying less for calves.

And don't forget about the president. The biggest political event of the year 2000 will almost certainly be the presidential election. While the president can't pass legislation, the office has an enormous impact on agriculture.

A presidential veto can block harmful legislation, or short circuit new laws that could be helpful to ranching. The presidential choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency also has an enormous impact on agriculture. So do the president's efforts for or against free trade, rangeland reform and tougher food safety measures. The president also appoints replacements to the Supreme Court, which makes numerous decisions impacting the future of agriculture each year.

Tomorrow's Tools

Try to battle BRD (bovine respiratory disease) on a single front with outdated weapons - either management or technology - and you may as well face a forest fire with a squirt gun. The bacteria and viruses causing the disease complex and its assorted ills are too many, too varied and too changeable.

"To control the disease, we need to impart resistance to a wide variety of bacteria and viruses, limit exposure to the infectious agents, limit stress, provide good nutrition and hydration, and control parasite loads. It's a disease of management as much as it is an infectious process," says Robert Briggs, a research veterinarian with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

In fact, this complexity means the industry will probably never eliminate the disease. But, innovative thinking and a commitment to management should help the industry stem the estimated $1 billion lost to BRD each year.

Feeding Against Pasteurella As an example, Briggs and fellow researcher, Fred Tatum, recently developed the world's first genetically engineered injectable and oral mucosal Pasteurella vaccines, built without foreign DNA or a genetic marker for antibiotic resistance.

"We've developed molecular genetic technology which allows us to very specifically control attenuation (the degree of disease-causing bacterial virulence). We target genes critical to the production of the disease and remove essential portions of them, but leave no foreign DNA," says Briggs. He explains attenuation is a reduction of virulence, compared with the bacterial parent strain.

In a nutshell, the new Pasteurella haemolytica vaccine allows immune response to the bacteria without allowing the disease to develop. Briggs says it should be possible to add other primary BRD bacteria - Pasteurella multocida and Haemophilus somnus - and major BRD viruses to the vaccine with the same technology. He says they started with P. haemolytica because it is responsible for most of the dollars lost to BRD bacteria.

Although not yet commercially available - the injectable form, which includes P. haemolytica, P. multocida and H. somnus, is licensed - this development is significant.

First, even though bacteria are the main culprits in BRD, the industry's weapon of choice so far has been vaccines aimed at controlling the viruses that weaken the immune system enough for the bacteria to take over. Vaccines aimed at such things as IBR, BVD, BRSV and PI3.

"Pasteurella are tough organisms to deal with. As a result, a lot of people have been working on viral vaccines, thinking if they get rid of those, bacteria can't become a secondary invader. But we know bacteria can be a primary invader," says James Cullor, director of the Veterinary Medicine and Teaching Resource Center for the University of California's College of Veterinary Medicine.

According to Bob Bohlender, of the Animal Clinic in North Platte, NE, "One of the problems we have with all bacterin vaccines are endotoxin levels in the product. An animal can only tolerate so much endotoxin without getting an adverse reaction."

These endotoxins go part and parcel with bacteria and are necessary to direct immune response. Too much, though, and problems can occur. What's more, no one is sure how much is too much.

"IBR, BVD (and other virals) and Pasteurellas (and other bacterin vaccines) all most likely have some level of endotoxin (bacterins more than virals). You wind up stacking it as you give each and have a better chance of hitting that threshold," says Cullor. He explains the threshold between positive and negative impact varies with the age of the animal, type of endotoxin and amount of stress on the immune system.

Even in its injectable form, the new ARS vaccine has lower levels of endotoxin than some other modified-live vaccines. More exciting, however, with the oral mucosal version, endotoxin levels aren't a concern because the nose, where these bacteria live, is already alive with them.

Plus, Cullor explains, "Injectables prompt the immune system through circulating in the blood, then going out to the tissues as needed.

Conversely, Briggs says a local mucosal response can be observed only days after the vaccination, whereas other vaccines usually need 10-14 days to elicit a primary immune response. He explains mucosal immunity is on the mucosal surface, right where it's needed to fight the bacteria.

Weight Is A Better Yardstick In a field trial comparing low and high risk calves - half unvaccinated and the other half vaccinated by top-dressing the ARS oral vaccine on the feed - mortality was reduced in the high-risk calves from 16% to 4%. P. haemolytica quickly killed 16% of the non-vaccinates, while vaccinate mortality resulted from Pasteurella multocida and Mycoplasma bovis. There was no mortality in the low-risk vaccinates, but their average daily gain increased 25% during the first 28 days on feed.

"I've been an advocate of that for years, looking at weight gain, and not just deads and pulls," says Bohlender. He explains that subpar performance pointing to subclinical disease can cost the industry more than animals with clinical symptoms.

Development of the oral mucosal vaccine may also point to the future of vaccine application. For one thing, the oral delivery is convenient, and might allow more producers an opportunity to vaccinate prior to shipment. "I think it's a great opportunity," says Bohlender, although he thinks the oral vaccine might be best used as a drench or paste. "It would get us away from the 5-20 percent of the cattle that aren't eating when we administer it."

Plus, oral vaccinations mean there are no injection site lesions costing the industry money. Bohlender also serves as chairman of the Animal Disease Research Sub-committee for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "This is exactly what we've been asking for, more products that don't jeopardize the quality of our product."

The genetically engineered vaccine proved its metal in a clinical trial, too (Table 1). Calves vaccinated with the injectable or oral ARS vaccine had more and faster immune response when exposed to virulent Pasteurella haemolytica than unvaccinated calves. The vaccinates also showed less lung damage (Table 2). By both measures, the oral vaccine proved the most powerful.

If someone licenses the oral vaccine, Briggs estimates it would take at least three years for it to become commercially available.

Management Is Always The Key While producers wait for new technology, each of these animal health professionals says management is the key to controlling BRD, no matter what products become available (See "Bustin' BRD," page 8).

"Poor management can overcome good immunology any time," says Cullor. "The first dollar you spend should be on management, and the second and the third, then you should talk about vaccines, and the last dollar you spend should be on antibiotics."

Although antibiotics have proven useful in BRD treatment and as prevention, with metyphylactic use, Jim Roth, believes increased government and public pressure on their use could shift even more weight to vaccines and management. Roth is a professor of immunology at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Incidentally, Roth is involved in research with another potential BRD tool called immunomodulators. Where vaccines are aimed at prevention against specific infection, immunomodulators seek to improve overall immune resistance. Immunomodulators consist of proteins found in the body which increase immune response or chemicals which stimulate increased production of these proteins.

In this case, reducing stress has to do with everything from environmental stress to ensuring cattle have the nutrition needed to build and maintain a strong immune system.

"Good nutrition, housing, vaccines, bedding, transportation that is optimum; all of these things we need to do and keep fine-tuning," says Cullor. "We need to do more to understand BRD completely. Maybe it's time for the industry to call for a symposium on BRD, share all of the research and come out with some industry-wide recommendations."

Embracing The Reality What's more, it may be time to consider BRD within the context of the current and evolving industry.

"The cow/calf industry isn't like it used to be," says Bohlender. "We have one cowboy to 500-750 cows. We have fewer people on these ranches, so we can't have sick cattle. On the other hand, we need convenience for delivering the product." He says more of his cow/calf clients are retaining ownership past the ranch gate, too. That means they're paying more attention to health management and reaping the benefits.

That's good news when you consider that in some other ways the industry is more like it has always been.

"We fundamentally don't want to change the way we do business because our business currently exists by adding value to someone else's mistake," says Gerald Stokka, extension beef veterinarian at Kansas State University. Say what you want about quality, in an average-based market, folks can buy light-weight mismanaged cattle under the market, play compensatory gain against health risk, and still make a buck.

"We know BRD is expensive, yet we have our current marketing system. The time you can take advantage of someone else's mistake is when calves come off the cows," says Stokka. Coincidentally, that's exactly when calves are most susceptible to BRD.

That's why Stokka believes an industry shift toward more coordinated production and marketing systems could alter the course of BRD as much as anything. In those systems, management rules.