Health of finishing steers: effects on performance, carcass traits, and meat tenderness

Author: Written by Gardner, B. A., H. G. Dolezal, L. K. Bryant, F. N. Owens, and R. A. Smith

Journal: Journal of Animal Science: 1999 77: 3168-3175.

Abstract: The impact of respiratory disease during a 150-d feedlot finishing period on daily gain, carcass traits, and longissimus tenderness was measured using 204 steer calves. Feedlot health status was monitored in two ways. First, clinical signs of respiratory infection were evaluated each day; treatment with antibiotic was based on degree of fever (if rectal temperature exceeded 40 degrees C then calves were treated). Steers that were treated (n = 102) had lower (P<.05) final live weights, ADG, hotcarcass weights (HCW), less external and internal fat, and more desirable yield grades. Steers that were treated had a higher prevalence of carcasses that graded U.S. Standard than steers that were never treated. Second, as an alternative index of health status, lungs of all steers were evaluated at the processing plant using a respiratory tract lesion classification system; this health index included presence or absence of preexisting pneumonic lesions in the anterioventral lobes plus activity of the bronchial lymph nodes (inactive vs active). Lung lesions were present in 33% of all lungs and were distributed almost equally between treated (37%) and untreated cattle (29%). Steers with lesions (n = 87) had lower(P<.05) daily gains, lighter HCW, less internal fat, and lower marbling scores than steers without lesions. Compared to steers with lesions but inactive bronchial lymph nodes (n = 78), steers with lung lesions plus active lymph nodes had lower (P<.01) ADG and dressing percentage. Longissimus shear force values for steaks aged 7 d were lower (P = .05) from steers without lung lesions than those for steaks from steers with lung lesions. Overall, morbiditysuppressed daily gains and increased the percentage of U.S. Standard carcasses. Compared to health assessment by clinical appraisal (based on elevated body temperature), classificationbased on respiratory tract lesions at slaughter proved more reliablestatistically and, thereby, more predictive of adverse effects ofmorbidity on production and meat tenderness.