See what you think about these observations regarding bovine respiratory disease (BRD) wrecks.

  1. Morbidity will vary even within the same source of cattle. Our biggest downfall is making a change this year and then attributing differences from last year solely to this change. How many times do we attribute decreased morbidity in the latest group of cattle to some management change we made (especially something new via a needle or the feed)? This is why you should challenge suppliers of new technology for randomized, controlled clinical trial data.

  2. Waiting for necropsies until well into the outbreak limits your vet's ability to help you. If done early enough in an outbreak, necropsies can help us evaluate the specific disease challenge, and provide sufficient time to plan interventions such as group medication, revised vaccination protocols or biosecurity measures. This is especially true when we're receiving multiple groups, and the indications from the first few groups are that our problem is contagious.

  3. The first pathogen isolated isn't necessarily the root of the problem, especially from chronic cases. Many wrecks are due to a combination of factors. However, if a given pathogen is repeatedly isolated from acute mortalities (those that die quickly after the disease is detected), then it should be addressed in a comprehensive plan. Concluding that a pathogen isolate from a single case is the cause of all the problems may leave you unprepared for the next round of the real cause.

  4. Just because a pathogen can be isolated and made into a vaccine doesn't mean it will prevent or decrease disease severity. Ask the people wanting to sell you an autogenous vaccine for their data (from a controlled, randomized trial) showing a beneficial effect in your type of production setting. Here's one I can't figure out — is an autogenous vaccine made from an isolate in one load of cattle still autogenous for the next load?

  5. Switch your antibiotic about a week into a wreck, and the second antibiotic will look like a real savior. The time from initial treatment to death is often shorter (just a few days), and the number of treated cattle that die (case fatality rate) is often higher in the first few days' worth of sick cattle in a stale group. This is because those cattle were well along in the disease process upon arrival. The second drug will appear to be better due to the type of cattle being treated.

  6. Without records, you can't characterize an outbreak. Even a basic set of records listing the animal, health problem, treatment day and product will allow you and your vet to reconstruct what happened.

  7. Nutrition is a major management component in avoiding wrecks. Starting calves on feed too aggressively can contribute to outbreak problems. Likewise, delivering an inadequate ration hampers the immune competency of the cattle.

  8. Distractions contribute to wrecks. We must deliver a balanced ration at consistent times, provide a usable water source, allow cattle a dry place to lie down and rest and consistently monitor health. When a disease challenge starts, have a sound plan for more routine morbidity rates and get your vet involved early when things start to get out of hand.

  9. There's no secret elixir for BRD therapy. Pick an appropriate antibiotic for individual animal treatment, and pick one for prevention and control of BRD if it's appropriate for the group of cattle. Use them according to a sound treatment protocol that includes when you will treat and when you will administer additional treatment. These are proven approaches

    If you want to add something else along with the antibiotic for BRD therapy, or if someone has the secret off-label mix to sell you, call me first — I have a used pickup to sell you (it runs good, honest).

  10. Your best bets for information are ongoing relationships with a vet and a nutritionist who constantly look for evidence to accept or reject management practices, and who talk to each other. One of my biggest puzzlements is a producer who wants to eliminate the cost of a vet, but will pump countless gallons of wonder potions into cattle on the free advice of a distributor or sales representative.

  11. Sometimes we just get what we pay for. There isn't enough management available through the feed or a needle to add value to some cattle. Are you attributing your real economic risk to high-risk cattle?

  12. Health is a combination of the hand you are dealt and how you play it. Be smart about who's dealing, then add solid programs for vaccination, environmental management, therapy and nutrition to sway the odds in your favor.

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is an associate professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

 

 

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