"Cattle that have been properly prepared for feedlot arrival simply perform better,” says Terry Engelken, DVM, Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “It doesn’t matter what parameter or benchmark you look at—feeding, animal health, or carcass. There is an extreme penalty when cattle have to be treated.”

As much as $365 per head in lost revenue can be blamed on postweaning disease.

An Iowa Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF) analysis of 70,000 head fed in 21 Iowa feedlots since 2002 shows the effects of health treatments on cattle performance and profitability.

Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB) presents the updated findings in a one-page Black Ink Basics tech sheet called “Poor calf health is a disease to profitability,” available at CABPartners.com/Educators.

“Regardless of calf ownership beyond weaning, improved health management can add value and protect profit potential,” the bulletin says, noting increased death loss and treatment accounted for up to $281.13/head in lost revenue. Reductions in performance and carcass merit reduced net return by an additional $83.88/head.

Health must be a priority across industry segments, but it starts at the ranch.

Dr. Doug Swaign

Doug Swain, DVM

Doug Swain, DVM, of the Lyman Veterinary Clinic at Griswold, Iowa, is an involved TCSCF board member. He helps set the health protocols for the feeding program, which has enrolled more than 230,000 cattle from 23 states and Canada over the last 30 years.

An underlined point in the protocols: Vaccinate at least four weeks prior to feedlot arrival. “So if you’re going to booster them after weaning, allow enough time that those shots are at least four weeks prior to delivery,” he says.

Weaning at least 30 to 45 days is a requirement of consigning cattle in the program, but Dr. Swain says weaning should not be the single workday for a set of calves.

“We need to spread stress out,” he says, referring to castrations and shots. “If we can do these things preweaning, that eliminates putting them on top of the unavoidable stress of that day.”

The vaccination program centers around two main pathogens that “cause the most trouble,” Dr. Swain says. The infectious bovine rhinotracheitis and bovine viral diarrhea modified-live injectable options deliver good protection, with the exception of syncitial virus, which “may be better delivered through a nasal vaccine.”


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Cow-calf producers who have experienced it, shudder when they hear Mycoplasma bovis, which can affect joints or respiratory function—though 10 times more likely the latter—and especially preys on those animals with underlying primary respiratory problems.

“With Myco, sometimes the best treatment, if you have a grass trap, is to just let them grow out of it,” Dr. Swain says.