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How to manage BRD

With outbreaks of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in calves a persistent threat in cow/calf and feedlot operations, tweaking management and treatment protocols is ongoing.

“Bovine respiratory disease accounts for 90% of our health problems,” says David Trowbridge, feedlot manager for Gregory Feedlots, Tabor, Iowa. “The most vulnerable cattle are calves under 1 year that are subjected to any kind of stress such as long hauls.”

Yet the bacterial and viral disease pathogens causing pneumonia-like symptoms are not limited to cattle in transit or those that have experienced other stressors.

“We also see outbreaks of BRD in calves out on pasture nursing the cows,” says Terry Engelken, DVM, associate professor at Iowa State University.

Vaccinated animals only

Because vaccination helps prevent the disease, Trowbridge tries to source only cattle that have been vaccinated. “Within the first couple of weeks after calves come into the lot, we’ll rebooster them for BRD,” he says.

Yet in spite of best efforts, some calves do get sick. For treating BRD, the veterinarian serving Gregory Feedlots uses the newer generation of long-acting antimicrobial products. These allow for a longer posttreatment interval than older antibiotics.

“By using the newer, long-lasting antimicrobials, we can get seven to 21 days of therapy from a single injection,” says Engelken. “This lets us run cattle through the chute only once. With the older antibiotics, we had to treat cattle every day for three to five days. The newer treatments are very effective and much better for animal welfare. These longacting products are now the cornerstone of treatment protocols for BRD.”

The drugs’ long-acting therapy has changed the management practices at Gregory Feedlots. “We identify all treated calves and turn them back into their original pen where they feel comfortable,” says Trowbridge.

Pen riders watch treated calves closely. Symptoms of the disease may remain after treatment, while the drug continues its therapy.

If the condition of the calves remains stable for at least eight days, they will not be retreated.

On about the eighth day posttreatment, calves with worsening symptoms are retreated and placed in a hospital pen. “For the second treatment, we’ll try a different antimicrobial drug,” says Trowbridge. “We’re unique in that we have a veterinarian on-site. Because of that, we have a lot of flexibility in the drugs we can choose from.”

Since adopting the use of long-acting antimicrobial drugs to treat BRD, retreatment rates at Gregory Feedlots have decreased. Now, only 15% to 20% of treated cattle will need to be retreated.

Death loss from BRD has dropped as well. “We’ve decreased the death loss by about .5% to 1% of what it once was,” says Trowbridge.

Overall treatment costs have been reduced.

While the actual cost of the newer drugs is higher than their older counterparts, savings result from the reduction in labor previously invested in treating cattle numerous times.

To ensure accurate drug-administration rates, Gregory Feedlots staff weigh each animal before it receives an injection. Treatment information is computerized, allowing easy retrieval of records showing an animal’s required period of withdrawal from harvesting.

“These newer, long-acting antimicrobials are available only by a prescription from a veterinarian,” says Engelken. “This helps ensure producer compliance and accountability so these antibiotics are used responsibly.”

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