In the past, about the best any feedyard could do with lightweight, high-risk calves was to treat with an antibiotic, give them a good-luck pat on the back and tell the pen riders to cross their fingers that the cattle would get through their first month or two on feed without falling apart.

High-risk calves are a pen-rider's challenge — and sometimes, their worst nightmare. Always have been. Finding a way to cost-effectively manage high-risk calves and get them over the health hump and on feed right away is the manager's challenge. That, too, has always been the case.

Now, however, managers have another tactic for high-risk calves that has shown to reduce both morbidity and mortality over the course of the feeding period.

The trial, conducted by Colorado Beef, used 4,000 head divided into two treatment groups. Every calf received 1.5 ml/cwt. of Micotil, and every other calf was given a dose of Presponse® SQ. The calves were not separated, allowing them to share common pen conditions and be managed under normal feedyard conditions.

According to Tony Bryant with Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, who conducted the study along with the yard's consulting veterinarian and feedyard personnel, the calves treated with both Micotil and the Mannheimia haemolytica (pasteurella) killed vaccine had 17% lower incidence of first pulls than the Micotil-only cattle, and a 19% lower incidence of relapses. What's more, the Micotil/Presponse SQ cattle had lower therapy and mortality costs by $1.37 and $13.14/head, respectively, than the calves that only received Micotil.

The total cost advantage of the combined antibiotic and vaccination protocol was $14.77/head lower than the Micotil-alone treatment group.

“We were surprised by the results,” Bryant says. Conventional wisdom holds that the benefit from a pasteurella vaccine is best realized when it's administered before the calves get to the feedyard. These results indicate the procedure may have a place in the feedyard processing protocol as well.

Bryant says the calves were followed all the way to harvest to make sure the difference lasted throughout the feeding period. And commingling the two groups made the results even more convincing, in his mind.

In fact, the feedyard has changed its processing protocol as a result of the findings. However, based on the experience of those involved with the trial, not all pasteurella vaccines produce the same result, making this trial notable.

“This is another weapon in the arsenal for high-risk calves,” Bryant says, and the advantages extended beyond the reduced morbidity and mortality in the treated group. With less overall incidence of bovine respiratory disease, the yard saw reduced antibiotic use overall.

“Not only did it benefit the health of the calves, it also alleviated the pressure on the pen riders,” he says, “so they could spend more time on other cattle that also needed their attention.” That's important, he says, because labor is a problem in virtually every feedyard and keeping good quality people in key positions, like pen riders, is a major management challenge. They stay happier when their job goes more smoothly, and the animals benefit as well.