“One example is that we’re still overusing vaccines because we don’t have a good history from one segment to the other of what cattle have had. So, we’re each covering our end and revaccinating. We need to have more open communication so that we’re not duplicating and using what is today’s common shotgun approach. We have too much cost in these cattle to be duplicating unnecessarily,” Uden notes.

Such duplication is also of concern to many consumers, who are pushing for a reduction of vaccine and/or antibiotic use in livestock production. Uden says more inter-sector communication would better enable the beef industry to combat activist groups as well as implement a more consumer-favored “holistic” approach to raising cattle. “We’ll need to focus more on nutrition going forward, and less on drugs,” he adds.

Overall, herd health on a year-round basis is where the production of a healthier feeder animal that can maximize available nutrition and minimize the need for drugs begins. “Preconditioning health starts pre-calving through managing the lifecycle of the cow. Those people that do a better job with their cows have a much tighter breed-up and they’re giving shots on time in the spring,” Uden says.

Uden says his operation has traced many problems to calves that weren’t vaccinated in the spring. “Those spring shots are more important than what’s given in the fall. I still want the calves given shots in the fall because they won’t have enough immunity once they leave the cow and meet that stress without them. However, those branding-day vaccinations will result in fewer health problems in that calf’s future,” he says.

While improved health management across an entire herd will result in fewer health issues in a given calf crop, it’s hardly a catch-all that will prevent any and all sickness.

“I’m not saying calves won’t get sick in the future; as we know it sometimes will be 60° above on a Monday and -60° on Wednesday, and those cattle have to live through that stress. But when cattle do get sick, those that are managed well throughout that cow’s life cycle tend to respond better to one shot. That’s a real benefit and value for us,” he explains.

Uden bases his statement on data derived from the tracking system Darr Feedlot has on all cattle fed in their facilities. The system provides real-time information on animals under their care, and insight as to why they are, or are not, performing optimally.

Looking ahead, technology use and data-based decision making will continue gaining momentum. Not only in better documenting communication regarding animal management prior to leaving the ranch, but also in identifying unforeseen hiccups that may impact future calf health and performance.

One example that Uden provides is the transportation component, during which neither the producer nor the feeder typically are in control.

“We do trace and note any transportation issues on cattle arriving at our facilities because there’s nothing more frustrating than you doing your job and me doing mine and a bad trucking job putting those cattle in jeopardy,” Uden says.