“Metaphylactic use of antibiotics in high stress, commingled cattle within 72 hours of arrival has consistently proven to be effective in decreasing both morbidity and mortality associated with bovine respiratory disease (BRD),” says Dee Griffin, DVM of the University of Nebraska’s Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center at Clay Center, NE. This is just one of the pearls of wisdom in a guide he developed a few years ago that is a helpful reference when deciding whether or not to use metaphylaxis. It’s one of those references that deserves reading again.

The document is Antibiotic Metaphylaxis to Control Respiratory Disease. In it, Griffin offers key questions to ask when considering whether or not metaphylaxis makes sense for the calves in question. Among them:

Q: What is the probability the group of cattle being considered for metaphylactic antibiotic use will have a high rate of bacterial respiratory disease?

A: Here, Griffin talks about considering all of the factors known to increase the incidence of bovine respiratory disease (BRD), such as stresses from heat and cold, dust and mud, age and weight, the time in transit, and previous commingling.

Q: Are there any management techniques, other than metaphylactic use of antibiotics, that will reduce the pending respiratory disease in the newly received group of cattle to a manageable level?

A: A lot of this has to do with pondering the factors mentioned previously and whether or not there are ways to minimize the effect of those factors.

Q: Will antibiotic metaphylaxis prevent or reduce the respiratory sickness and death loss in newly purchased, commingled, highly stressed cattle? And if so, will the reduction in health problems be sufficient to warrant the metaphylactic use of an antibiotic?

A: Griffin explains, “The value of metaphylactic antibiotics in part is related to the ability of cattle to hide symptoms and the explosive nature of the bacterial phase of BRD once viral damage has crippled the bacterial defense mechanisms in the upper respiratory tract. The decrease in the potential pathogenic bacterial populations in the upper respiratory region by metaphylactic antibiotic use may be related to the improved health parameters observed. Additionally, metaphylactic antibiotics may decrease the role of bacteria, such as M. bovis, that are marginally pathogenic but that may have a significant additive effect in BRD development.”

Q: Will the reduction in suffering caused by respiratory disease be great enough to offset the cost of antibiotic metaphylaxis?

A: “When breakeven analysis considers performance losses over the backgrounding period, the value appears to be worth an additional 4%, or about $4/cwt,” Griffin says. “Less data are available for analysis of performance loss for the entire feeding period but suggest losses will cost in excess of 30 lbs. of gain and a 2% decrease in carcass value.”

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