There’s a third element in the BRD battle, Noffsinger explains, and that’s the effect that stress has on cattle health. “Producers have been a little more receptive to ideas like two-stage weaning, fenceline weaning, backgrounding, and preweaning vaccinations,” he says. “Those kinds of management practices lessen the BRD risk.”

Looking at his database, he says that, while the seasonality of BRD remains similar, he’s seeing a slight increase in disease incidence as the drought progresses. “We’ve actually seen some improvement in treatment response due to the growth in the skill level of our treatment crews,” he adds. While the incidence level of BRD has remained in check, “It’s taken more focus, more intensity on arrival, more effort in backgrounding and preparing animals to come to the feedyard.”

Part of that effort in preparing cattle for the feedyard is low-stress cattle handling, he says. Now there’s research to document what he’s seen over the years.

Research at Iowa State University looked at high-quality calves that had received preweaning vaccinations, and then low-stress handling and acclimation to a feedyard setting, along with exercise and chute training preprocessing. The results showed an extra 30 lbs. of carcass weight, and a 50% reduction in morbidity, Noffsinger says. Animals also exhibited a reduced exit velocity when leaving the chute, which has been shown to be an indicator of temperament and stress level.

“So if that type of management has that big of an impact on high-quality calves, it might be pretty easy to imagine that some of these stressed, high-risk animals might respond in a larger magnitude,” he says.

Biosecurity is a factor

Given the drought, the reality is that a lot of calves arrive at a feedyard at some level of risk for BRD. That necessitates a focus on biosecurity, Noffsinger says.

“As these animals arrive at a feedyard, if we have a choice, it’s important that these special needs calves not be penned next to a pen that’s going through high morbidity,” he says. It’s also important to acknowledge that pre-arrival vaccines are superior to giving cattle a vaccination after they’ve already been exposed.

To that end, Noffsinger focuses on improving communication up and down the marketing chain. “If we can have bi-directional communication going from the calf producer to the feedlot to create not only some management practices that make a difference, but specific communication about products given, the date they were given, maybe some nutritional information and any health challenges during the summer, that just makes the decisions stronger as plans are made for arrival management,” he says.

But when you peel away all the layers of an effective cattle health program to manage and prevent BRD, it really comes down to this — If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.


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