To realize profits from proper preparation prior to feedlot arrival, care through the feeding phase must match it.

“If you expect your receiving program to be effective, you had better first and foremost, make sure you are taking care of the calves after they get off the truck,” Dr. Engelken explains.

Rest the cattle for a minimum of 8 hours to let them find water and feed, and a comfortable, dry place to lie down, he says. Pen conditions play a critical role in getting the cattle off to a good start. Factors such as the need for bedding or shade have to be taken into account before the cattle arrive. 

Prevention is important because the more times a calf is treated, the greater the economic penalty. The data suggests treating animals two or more times reduces Prime by 30 percent and premium Choice by 36.8 percent when compared to non-treated calves.

Dr. Engelken’s research on treatment and tenderness backs this up. In a study of 350 retained ownership calves, beef from animals that remained healthy in the feedlot had a Warner-Bratzler shear force (WBSF) of 6.01 pounds. Treated calves had a WBSF of 6.47 pounds. The difference of nearly half a pound demonstrates challenged calves produced not only lower quality grades but tougher steaks.

Of course, the truth is that sometimes cattle require treatment, and in these cases maximizing first-treatment recovery rates is critical.

Terry Engleken

Terry Engelken, DVM

Dr. Engelken tells producers to “remember what your grandfather taught you.” Animal husbandry (like low stress handling and well maintained facilities) plays a huge role in how cattle respond to treatment.

He emphasizes the importance of hospital pen management, noting it should be “a place for recovery, not an overcrowded disease incubator.”

Sick and recovering cattle don’t always compete at the bunk so they need more space. He suggests at least 18 inches of linear bunk space and at least 150 square feet of pen space per head. Hospital pens should be scraped regularly and bedded as needed, and waterers washed at least twice per week.

In many cases it is advantageous to treat the cattle and send them back to their home pen, making hospital management easier since animal numbers will be much lower. 

“All of these things go hand in hand to prevent disease and increase our chances of recovery,” Dr. Engelken says.

Dr. Swain also notes one area of very early prevention: selection.

“Some herds are more prone to disease because of a genetic predisposition to BRD [bovine respiratory disease],” he says. “That shouldn’t surprise us. Some lines of cattle get pinkeye more easily.”

In the future, DNA may be able to help avoid those cattle, but “in the meantime, good records can help,” he says. If a cow consistently produces chronic calves, it may signal more than coincidence. 

Although some factors, like weather, are out of anyone’s control, preventing and quickly treating disease is one of the surest ways to let cattle express their full potential, the veterinarians say.

And that means more profit, along with a better cut of beef.


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