Here’s more compelling, concrete evidence from USDA’s latest update of its ongoing series of health and management surveys that the industry continues bleeding high costs to the most common killer of feedlot calves: bovine respiratory disease. The most current survey data, drawing on results from the 2011 survey of large and small feedlots—which you can browse here—puts the direct cost to treat shipping fever at $23.60 for every case. That cost is double 1999’s estimate, at $12.59.
USDA’s survey data show that although the cost to treat BRD compares to some of the less common diseases acute interstitial pneumonia, at $21.70 per case, and central nervous system disease, at $20.10 per case, it makes some of the more common diseases seem almost preferable, like lameness, at $13.40 per case, or digestive problems, at $9.90 per case. BRD treatment costs did not differ by feedlot size: Feedlots under 8,000-head capacity spent only 50 cents less per case than 8,000-plus operations.
Of the overall estimated 16.2 percent of all cattle placed in feedlots that showed signs of respiratory disease, about 88 percent got some treatment. Nearly all feedlots treating cattle for respiratory disease used an injectable antibiotic, and essentially all cattle treated for respiratory disease received an injectable antibiotic. About one in five smaller feedlots also tried oral antibiotics, in contrast to only 2 percent of the larger ones. Larger feedlots were also less likely than small ones to try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like flunixin or aspirin, although more than half of all feedlots used one in the first course of BRD treatment. About two out of five feedlots tried a respiratory vaccine as part of the treatment for at least some cattle, as well.
USDA’s costly pricetag for treating BRD here includes, of course, only the direct treatment costs. One commonly cited estimate of the overall cost, including losses in productivity from sickness and death, puts the overall losses at about 7 percent of the total cost to get a calf from the weaning pen to the packing house, when compared to its healthy pen-mate.
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