In Research: Current Feedlot Cattle Health and Well-Being Program Recommendations Made by Veterinary Consultants in the United States and Canada

by Dr. Tiffany Lee

Consulting feedlot veterinarians routinely give recommendations to feedlot employees and managers on all areas of cattle health and welfare. Most of these recommendations are based on the veterinarians’ field experience and knowledge of published, peer-reviewed literature. The Beef Cattle Institute has developed a survey to document the current recommendations of consulting feedlot veterinarians, first conducted in 2009. The survey was repeated in 2014 to document the most current recommendations being given, and to report any changes in recommendations made in 2009 versus those in 2014.

Table 1. Rankings of seven factors utilized by feedlot veterinarians to predict morbidity and mortality in feeder cattle in commercial feedyards and the comparison of the rankings found in the current survey to those in the 2009 survey.

Table 1. Rankings of seven factors utilized by feedlot veterinarians to predict morbidity and mortality in feeder cattle in commercial feedyards and the comparison of the rankings found in the current survey to those in the 2009 survey.

Twenty-three consulting feedlot veterinarians answered 78 questions involving general information/demographics, employee training, receiving and processing practices, castration, dehorning, and pregnancy management, antibiotic use, vaccination strategies, disease diagnosis and treatment, morbidity and mortality, and euthanasia and necropsy. Response rate to the survey was 100 percent. The veterinarians surveyed were from Canada, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. The 23 respondents represented more than 10 million head of cattle on feed.

The respondents are involved in the training of feedlot employees, and indicated they use tools such as video, printed materials, pictures and live web demonstrations to do so. All respondents reported the use of hands-on training to instruct employees as well. In addition, two of the 23 respondents speak Spanish, which may aid in the training of feedlot employees.

Veterinarians also give recommendations on common veterinary practice procedures and take time to train feedlot employees on proper performance of castration, dehorning, and other routine practices. Welfare considerations such as castration and pain management are currently topics of discussion among producers, academic professionals, and veterinary consultants. The veterinarians-surveyed recommended castration methods for various weight classes of cattle. Their recommendations are reflected in Figure 1. With regards to dehorning, only nine respondents (42.9 percent) recommend the removal of horns or horn tips, even though 16 (69.6 percent) believe that packing plants have a restriction on horn length. What is best for the animal is always considered when implementing these practices.

 Recommendations on castration method for each weight class of cattle by feedlot veterinarians surveyed (n= 22 respondents).

Recommendations on castration method for each weight class of cattle by feedlot veterinarians surveyed (n= 22 respondents).

The veterinarians surveyed also recommend best management practices in regards to vaccination protocols, antibiotic use, and other management decisions for cattle coming into feedlots. Vaccination protocols vary with veterinarians’ personal experience, feedlot demographics, and type of cattle being received (high risk or low risk). Antibiotic use is more common in cattle that are termed “high risk” for contracting Bovine Respiratory Disease, such as young cattle or cattle that have been transported long distances. Due to the differences in cattle arriving at feedlots, management styles, geographical location, and personal experience of veterinarians and feedlot managers, morbidity and mortality rates vary widely among the cattle that the surveyed veterinarians represent. Because of this, seven factors related to the prediction of morbidity and mortality were provided to the survey participants, and were to be ranked in order of importance. The results from 2014 compared to those from 2009 are shown in Table 1. Changes in weather patterns over the years and the labor force available could be contributors to the differences in the rankings of the factors provided.

While differences in personal knowledge and experience of the veterinarians-surveyed here contribute to the variation in answers to many of the questions in the survey, the information provided gives valuable insight into the most common recommendations being made by feedlot veterinarians in the United States and Canada. The findings reported here increase knowledge of common recommendations being made by practicing veterinarians, and have an impact on the feedlot and veterinary industries. The information will be valuable both today and in the future, when other surveys contribute to make an even larger base of knowledge.

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