Bovine Respiratory Disease Takes an Economic Toll on the Herd

In today’s economic environment, cattle producers are looking to maximize the performance of each animal. Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is an economic challenge to all cattle producers. This disease complex accounts for approximately 75 percent of feedlot illnesses and 50 percent of feedlot deaths. These numbers represent lost productivity as well as increased labor and medical costs to treat the cattle. While the medical costs associated with these numbers are significant, the economic impact of BRD on the performance of cattle can be devastating.1

“BRD is more than just a disease,” says Dr. Jerry Woodruff, professional services veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., “It’s a respiratory disease complex which combines disease organisms with management and environment stressors.”

In the cattle industry, there are a number of built-in stressors such as transition stress, feed changes and environmental exposures. These stressors merge with disease organisms and develop into a complex that challenges an animal’s health. The first 30 days after weaning or receiving cattle seems to be the most critical time for disease detection. During this time period, it is important to reduce stress factors and keep a close watch on cattle.

An Oklahoma State University study shows reduced carcass merit for animals with lung lesions at harvest and a reduced carcass value due to fewer pounds and lower carcass quality. Cattle with active respiratory tract lesions had lower dressing percentage and marbling scores than those with inactive lesions1. Equally as important, marbling score, fat thickness and hot carcass weight was reduced in cattle with any lesion as compared to cattle with no lesions. Decreased performance due to BRD can be an economic blow to producers and cattle feeders.

The number of treatments received by cattle during the feedlot phase has significant consequences on economically important performance and carcass traits. The number of Select and Standard carcasses increase with the number of treatments for BRD. Research also shows that there are less Prime, premium Choice and low Choice carcasses with an increase in BRD treatments.2

The importance of keeping cattle healthy is fundamental in reducing the number of animals who need to be treated. BRD is a management disease and a preventable problem. “Even if we attempt to control or reduce BRD with vaccines, often times we do not control the stressors that cattle are subjected to,” says Woodruff.

Woodruff adds that many producers and feedlot managers look to vaccines as a quick-fix for BRD. However, they need to incorporate good management practices along with a sound vaccination program in order to keep cattle and the bottom line in top health. Utilizing exceptional management practices and decreasing the incidence of stressors can help reduce the impact BRD will have on cattle.

Woodruff recommends that feedlot managers and producers work with their veterinarian to develop a sound vaccination program to prevent BRD.

1 Gardner BA, Dolezal HG, Bryant LK, Owens FN, Smith RA; Health of finishing steers; effect on performance, carcass traits, and meat tenderness.; J Anim Sci. 1999 Dec:77(12):3168-75.

2 Schneider M, Tait RG, Reecy J: Estimation of the effects of bovine respiratory disease treatments through the feedlot phase and the differences among sires of Angus cattle. Iowa State University Animal Industry Report 2007, A.S. Leaflet R2195.