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Finding Sick Cattle Early. Brendan Kraus, DVM Spur Ridge Vet Hospital. Marion, KS. What are the Costs of Illness. BRD Prevention Products Treatment Medications BRD Deaths Decreased Gain Decreased Carcass Value. Prevention is the Best Defense. Preweaning Vaccinations

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Finding sick cattle early

Finding Sick Cattle Early

Brendan Kraus, DVM Spur Ridge Vet Hospital

Marion, KS

What are the costs of illness
What are the Costs of Illness

  • BRD Prevention Products

  • Treatment Medications

  • BRD Deaths

  • Decreased Gain

  • Decreased Carcass Value

Prevention is the best defense
Prevention is the Best Defense

  • Preweaning

  • Vaccinations

  • Backgrounding

  • Mass Medication

Which cattle are at risk
Which Cattle are “At Risk?”

  • Cattle that are in the peri-weaning phase

  • Multiple source cattle and salebarn

  • “Put together” cattle longer than 1-2 days

  • Long Haul

  • Bulls

  • Poor vaccination history

  • Previous history of illness years past

  • Adverse environmental conditions

Assign risk to pens
Assign Risk to Pens

  • It may be prudent to assign a risk rating to pens so all personnel have an idea which pens need more attention

    • Can be done with a numerical or color system

Impact of respiratory disease
Impact of Respiratory Disease

  • Texas Ranch to Rail Sick Cattle (First Year)

    • Gained Less

    • Had poorer feed efficiency

    • Graded lower

  • 28% Got Sick

  • 2.88% Deads

Impact of respiratory disease1
Impact of Respiratory Disease

  • When compared to cattle not diagnosed with BRD

    • Sick cattle gained 7% less

    • Weighed 3% less

    • Cost 18.5% more to feed

    • Graded 25% fewer Choice

  • The Total Cost of being sick was $111.38

How good are we at finding sick cattle
How good are we at finding sick cattle?

  • US Meat Animal Research Center Trial

    • Calves were diagnosed as sick and coin flip determined treatment or no treatment

  • All Lungs were assessed at packing house

    • 50% of the cattle not diagnosed as sick had lung lesions

    • 50% of cattle diagnosed and treated for pneumonia had lung lesions

How good are we at finding sick cattle1
How good are we at finding sick Cattle?

  • ADG was affected by percentage of lung damage

  • Our goal is to prevent severe lung damage

    • Metaphylaxis may help prevent lung damage in the calves that we are unable to identify as sick

    • Treatment of sick calves is meant to halt lung damage

How do we find sick cattle
How do we find Sick Cattle?

  • Many factors influence the outcome of respiratory illness

    • The most important factor is finding the sick cattle and starting treatment early

    • A sick animal’s chance of survival will improve if treatment is started within 48 hours of the onset of pneumonia

    • Some cattle will hide symptoms completely during this time!

The importance of time
The importance of Time

  • Make sure you have plenty of time in the morning to diagnose and treat sick cattle.

  • It takes time to really observe the cattle thoroughly enough to detect the subtle signs of illness

  • In the summer, cattle must be fed, pulled, treated, and returned to a pen by 11:00am


  • Appetite Depression

  • Lowered Head carriage

  • General Depression

  • Less Responsive to Environmental Stimuli

  • Hide behind other cattle

  • Reduced Gut Fill

  • Cough


  • Increased respiration rate

  • Nasal discharge

  • Not cleaning nostrils or grooming

  • Stiff gait

  • Weakness (drag toes, knuckling joints)

  • Fever

  • Dull Eyes

  • Drooping Upper Eyelid

Appetite depression
Appetite Depression

  • Feed Consumption starts to drop 48 hours before a rise in body temperature can be detected

    • Consumption will drop 50% 24 hours before the fever spikes

  • Pull any newly weaned calf that is slow to come to the bunk to eat

    • Identify them and come back to get them after cattle have had a chance to eat

Appetite depression1
Appetite Depression

  • Pull any newly weaned calf that is slow to come to the bunk to eat

    • Identify them and come back to get them after cattle have had a chance to eat

  • If doctor crew is not available to watch cattle come to the feed bunk during feeding, watch the fill on the cattle very closely

    • Cattle that have not been eating well will have a slight depression behind the ribs on the left side


  • Temperatures over 104 F should be considered a fever

    • Afternoon temperatures are not reliable

    • Temperatures of cattle being processed or run around the pen are not reliable

    • Always use temperature as a confirmation of disease, not as the sole criteria

My favorite sick calf indicators
My Favorite Sick Calf Indicators

If possible study the calves at first light and again at feeding time

  • Slow to the Bunk-Come to the bunk but hide between calves, not eating rapidly

  • Depressed or dull Eye

  • Slight low Head Carriage (when they don’t know you are watching)

  • Rear Leg Weakness

Prey animal instinct
Prey Animal Instinct

  • Prey animals have evolved to mask signs of illness

  • Sick cattle will be difficult to find until the caretakers have earned the cattle’s trust

  • Spend time in the pen every day practicing low stress techniques until that trust is earned

Pen riders
Pen Riders

  • If cattle are to pulled on horseback, let the pen rider get in the pen during feed delivery from the first day the cattle are received.

  • This will allow the cattle to get used to having someone in the pen, and will allow sick cattle to be sorted out more easily later

  • Try to remove sick cattle quietly, efficiently, quickly, and without upsetting the rest of the pen

Follow up on treatment success
Follow Up on Treatment Success

  • Give Pen Riders feedback on treatment success

    • Target 90% success rate

    • If there are greater than 10-15% retreats, cattle may be being pulled too late


  • Sick Cattle = Dollars Lost

  • Some cattle display only the subtle signs of disease until it’s too late

  • Check cattle early, preferably near feeding time

  • Pull Early, Pull Deep

  • If a calf catches your eye, it’s probably sick