Add this to the bevy of research documenting the cost of sick cattle vs. those that never need treatment.

Researchers uncovered $190/head net difference between cattle treated twice and those that never needed treatment, in the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF) – 50,000 head of cattle fed in 18 Iowa feedlots since 2002.

Gary Fike, Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB) beef cattle specialist, says the gains stem from lower treatment costs and increased cattle performance. During a talk at the Midwest Section meetings of the American Society of Animal Science last month, he used TCSCF data to shed light on the effect of health treatments on feedlot performance, carcass traits and profitability.

Cattle remaining healthy during the feeding phase had heavier delivery weights, final weights, stronger gains and fewer days on feed than their treated counterparts. Cattle never treated in the feedlot arrived weighing 650 lbs.; those that ended up being treated once weighed 617 lbs., and those treated twice entered the yard at 601 lbs.

“There’s a lesson in those numbers,” Fike says. “The untreated cattle are a little older and heavier when they arrive, which tells me they spent more time at home being backgrounded and getting all those sickness problems straightened out before they ever left the ranch.”

Darrell Busby, TCSCF manager, presented related research at the meetings indicating lung adhesions (a result of respiratory illness) cost more than $40/head.

“The cattle with lung adhesions weigh 8 lbs. less than those with none,” he says. “That indicates there are a lot of things that happen prior to the feedlot that cause these lung adhesions.”

In the study, lung adhesions were defined as blemishes that require a knife to remove the lung tissue from the ribcage of the carcass. “Our data is recognizing that these severe cases of lung adhesions, which represent about 4% of the population, are what cause the most damage in terms of lost performance, lighter carcass weights and lower marbling scores,” Busby says.

Cattle with lung adhesions had to be administered health treatments 2.2 times more than those without. Similar to the data Fike presented, Busby says that hike in treatment cost (nearly $7 more for individual drug treatments) isn’t the only place cattle with lung adhesions lose.

For instance, the percentage of carcasses that met CAB® brand acceptance dropped from 18% to 12% when lung adhesions were present. A similar quality drop was found between cattle never treated and those treated twice (19% vs. 11%).

“Those healthy cattle lay on intramuscular fat more easily thanks to that added gain,” Fike says. Noting the significant marbling deposition differences between groups of cattle, he adds, “We know these stress-free, healthy cattle can really bring home the carcass quality. A database of this size is just a big exclamation point at the end of that statement.”