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More Prevention, Less Treatment for Calves

Reduce the incidence/severity of BRD by vaccinating calves.

Hard as it is to believe, only about one in four calves gets a vaccination for bovine respiratory disease (BRD) complex, the costliest and deadliest disease in beef cattle. John Davidson, a beef cattle veterinary specialist for Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, says there is good evidence that the incidence of BRD, particularly in finishing cattle, is increasing. “Vaccination of calves is one of the known practices that can help reduce the incidence or severity of BRD,” he says. 

Failure to vaccinate puts more reliance on antibiotics to treat the disease after it strikes. “Beef producers are spending more money on antibiotics to treat BRD than they used to,” he says.

This is important now because antibiotic use in food animals is getting close scrutiny from the FDA due to fears of bacterial resistance. Starting this year, the routine use of antibiotics in animal feed is limited to a veterinary prescription. One state – California – may ban over-the-counter sale of injectable animal antibiotics by 2018.

“Three things – regulation, legislation, and consumer activism – are driving this antibiotic backlash,” says Davidson. “That last one is far and away the biggest issue.”

This will be felt by you, the producer, in a couple of ways, he continues. One, you’ll need to get even closer to your veterinarian for oversight and consultation on all matters of animal health – especially for assurance that antibiotics are used correctly. 

“There will be less routine use of antibiotics for production of animals. I support that, and I think veterinarians should be involved when antibiotics are used,” he says.

Joe Gillespie, a private veterinarian in central Kansas, echoes Davidson’s views. “As an industry, we are moving to more judicious use of antibiotics,” he says.

“The fewer times you have to use an antibiotic on a farm, the healthier that herd is.” 

He supports more vaccine development and use, because vaccines are usually less expensive than antibiotic treatment. “Therapies that are about disease prevention and not disease treatment can improve any system,” he says.

Patrick Halbur, chair of the production animal medicine department at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says vet school is changing for the better. “It’s especially changing in how we train students in their fourth  and final year,” he says.

That is the clinical year when students get to work directly with animals. It’s usually in a college clinical laboratory, treating whatever animals show up for diagnosis or treatment. The new method, says Halbur, involves strategic partnerships with real-world farms where students live and work for all or part of the year.

“These farms have the best, most modern animal production systems in the world,” he says. They offer vet students a chance to learn about production and animal health on a real farm. The students even live in the community. 

Halbur thinks this training is particularly beneficial to the increasing number of vet students who have no farm background. “Sometimes we send them out to a farm by themselves, and they have to think and devise a plan for that farm. They get up to speed pretty quickly. We want them ready to go on day one when they graduate from vet school,” Halbur says.

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