Vet's Opinion

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While having many choices is generally seen as a good thing, too many choices can sometimes be overwhelming. For instance, there are 73 federally-licensed viral vaccines for bovine respiratory disease (BRD) available in the U.S.

The situation gets even more perplexing if these options are accompanied by varying research conclusions or recommendations from trusted advisors. Of course, when the result is a critical review of the pros and cons of a product, it’s a tremendous positive. But, when the result is “analysis paralysis” – indecision that leads to doing nothing – we have failed.

On a recent herd visit, we found a feedlot owner in this trap. With too many choices – and conflicting advice from numerous advisors – the high-risk cattle entering this producer’s yard remained unvaccinated for BRD. We were providing herd consultation because of high morbidity and mortality due to BRD.

Cattle were receiving an appropriate injectable antibiotic on arrival for control of respiratory disease in high-risk cattle. But, when numerous loads of high-risk calves started crowding the facilities, the problem became unbearable.

The calves generally started breaking with BRD at 2-3 weeks after arrival. A BRD break at this time has had ample time for viral infection to be a major contributor, and also gives time for response to a properly timed viral vaccination.

Diagnostic samples on some of the mortalities showed active viral infection in the calves. We felt strongly that a modified-live virus (MLV) BRD vaccine 12-24 hours after arrival would tremendously benefit these cattle.

Cattle pulled for BRD were being treated without a determination of rectal temperature, and the antibiotic choice for treatment was haphazard at best. In addition, sick cattle were retreated before it was necessary, and limited records were kept.

When we asked the owner who his herd health veterinarian was, he hesitated and said he did most of his work himself. Veterinarians have no problem with owners doing most of their own work, but we’d like the opportunity to be known as your “herd health veterinarian.”

At the conclusion of our meeting, with our assistance, the veterinarian this producer generally called for emergencies proposed the following protocols:

  • Incoming vaccination and a BRD-control treatment (sometimes called metaphylaxis),
  • Written criteria for pulling sick cattle,
  • BRD treatment and
  • Receiving nutrition.

The owner seemed agreeable to these suggestions and we expect improved health of his herd as a result. None of these protocols alone is a panacea for his problems, but together they will work to minimize the risk of a severe BRD outbreak.

Are many veterinarians who work with cattle actually bovine herd health veterinarians? I think so, but some are not. If your veterinarian is a herd health veterinarian, he or she can help you map out a vision of success for your herd.

If not, ask your cattle doctor if they ever consult with specialists on complicated health cases. If they do, you have a keeper because they can lead your health team. If not, you should likely find a new partner for your health team.

Don’t let too many choices and conflicting research cause you to not provide the best for your herd. Find out if you have a herd health veterinarian and utilize their expertise to move your program in the right direction.

What's Vet's Opinion?

Three top U.S. veterinarians provide tightly focused discussion of specific beef cattle disease and welfare topics.

Contributors

Dave Sjeklocha

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is operations manager of animal health and welfare for Cattle Empire, LLC, Satanta, KS.

Mike Apley

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

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