Do we need better recipes or better cooks when it comes to managing stocker cattle health? That’s the question Michael Nichols, DVM and director of U.S. beef operations for Pfizer Animal Health, posed to stocker producers at the outset of this year’s Cattlemen’s College.

Among the habits he has seen effective stocker producers employ over the years:

Begin with the end in mind. “Develop a systems approach to management,” Nichols says. “Provide management before medicine and realize that complicated health programs have more opportunity to fail than simpler ones.”

Synergize health with nutrition. “Highly successful stocker operators understand that nutrition is a critical component of animal health,” Nichols says. In practice, Nichols explains the common denominator he encountered in operations facing animal-health problems at receiving was nutrition, either too aggressive or inadequate.

“There are a number of instances where cattle are being treated for BRD, when the problem is really digestive,” Nichols says. Oftentimes, he says the problem goes back to poor bunk management or inconsistent feeding times.

Identify sickness early and treat adequately. Since animal health products available to treat bovine respiratory disease (BRD) work quickly – within a couple of hours – it’s the time it takes to identify calves in need of treatment that poses the challenge, Nichols says. Along with timely detection, Nichols says effective therapy demands evidence-based, consistent protocol, and treating animals long enough for complete recovery.

“Not all calves respond equally,” Nichols says. “A certain percentage of calves will recover spontaneously without intervention. Most will respond to first treatment, and then there will be a group that won’t respond no matter what we do.”

Sharpen the saw. Nichols stressed that effective management is founded in accurate measurement. He shared this quote from H. James Harrington: “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”

Find Nichols’ complete presentation at in the Cattlemen’s College section.