A lot has changed in the feedlot industry in the last several decades. Feedlot veterinarians were asked to recall the disease challenges, issues, tools and events that happened in the last 35 years that have impacted feedlot medicine and the management of feedlot cattle.

In the mid-to-late 1970s, veterinarians started changing from individual animal medicine to herd health and “food-animal” medicine. In that decade they dealt with many of the same diseases they do today, even if they didn’t know it back then. Top of mind were Pasteurella, Hemophilus somnus, pneumonia disasters, bovine respiratory disease (BRD), acute bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), coccidiosis, acidosis due to grain overload and new problems with sudden death syndrome which was thought to be clostridial. There was a rapid spread of disease entities due to close proximity of cattle in a confined setting.

Injection site lesions deep in the gluteal muscles were a common finding on necropsy. Eventually, negative feedback about injection site lesions would help to spur beef quality assurance (BQA) programs. In the Texas Panhandle, everything was dipped for lice and tick control and organophosphate toxicity became a big issue.

Hospital records were being kept for accounting purposes but not for animal health management. Implanting use and techniques were becoming more important. Extralabel drug use was common. There was a transition to metal handling equipment, alleys and tubs that were often built bigger and stronger, but without much attention to cattle handling ease and cattle comfort.

“The crash” affected the 70s
The crash of the fed cattle markets in 1974 had a deep impact on the beef industry. Genetics started to change and there was a transition to crossbred animals, including continental breeds. The Certified Angus Beef brand started in 1978 as part of the popularity for black-hided cattle that continues today.

There was a continuing increase in the size of feedlots and vertical integration within the industry. Texas already had many feedlot consultants, and they were just starting to get a foothold in the North. In the Midwest, animal health product providers did the processing and treatment protocols for many operations.

The decrease in the number of “local” slaughter plants changed the way cattle were bought. Preconditioning started to be seen in some stocker, backgrounding and cow/calf operations.

During that time, more state diagnostic laboratories began to open and sophisticated diagnostic procedures such as virus isolation, ELISA testing, fluorescent antibody techniques for several diseases and the use of cell lines for viral diagnostics changed how diseases were identified.

On the vaccine front, Pasteurella vaccines were in their infancy and Leptospira pomona was still the diluent of choice for most all respiratory viral vaccines. Other products being used included monensin, newer dewormers, coccidiostats for the feed, and with the loss of diethylstilbestrol, new generations of implants were introduced.

Multiple antibiotics were used in mixtures for calves on-arrival with colorful names such as Bloody Mary’s (terramycin-neomycin-B12) or Pink Lady’s (penicillin-neomycin-B12). Chlortetracycline was fed three days/month for liver abscesses. There were also new short-acting antibiotics available, which resulted in cattle going through the chute multiple times. Mass treatment (metaphylaxis) by individual antibiotic injection started. Subtherapeutic use and developing drug resistance was of some concern.

Bunk management/design and feed mixing equipment improved as did attention to pen conditions. David Bechtol, DVM, developed his “Cattle Accounting System” and companies were starting to develop chute-side systems and computer management programs.

BRD was big in the 80s
Like the 1970s, BRD was the most significant economic disease in the 1980s, with bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) coming on strong. IBR revaccination became the norm in “put-together” cattle. Those put-together cattle usually were classified as “high-risk,” “medium-risk” and “low-risk.” Mycoplasma was starting to be more recognized as were continuing problems with BVDV and IBR.

Intensive confined feeding magnified digestive issues such as acidosis, bloat, coccidiosis and diarrhea. Liver abscesses in yearling were become common.

A lot of new and improved tools became available in the 1980s. Ivermectin came into popular use and dipping with organophosphates ceased. There were more ionophores and abortifacients available.There were many antibiotics used in combination to treat BRD and ethical and legal questions were more prevalent in the use and sale of compounded products.

There was considerable discussion concerning protection and duration of immunity of modified-live and killed vaccines, in general and even the possibility of the production of disease by the vaccine itself. New generations of Pasteurella (now Mannheimia) hemolytica vaccines were being developed. Disposable and automatic syringes were in wide use. Ballistivet developed a compressed air rifle that utilized solid dose formulations to deliver vaccine and later a few limited antibiotics from a considerable distance.

Technology advanced with more chute--side computers and record keeping systems. More extensive and sophisticated animal health programs and protocols were being developed. Ranch-to-rail programs were gaining a foothold.

There was an increased emphasis on facilities such as chutes and alleyways for processing and treatment, however many of the chutes still had limited neck-injection availability.

BQA a concern
Beef quality and injection site issues were a focus of the 1980s, especially injection site lesions in the top butt. One in five top butts evaluated had an injection site lesion. Some retailers called these “cancer”. About two percent of the top butts had a “wet” lesion consisting of a fluid abscess. Tenderness issues, inconsistent carcasses and residue avoidance were also significant points of discussion. In 1986 the Texas Cattle Feeders Association initiated the first state BQA program in the country.

Animal welfare issues were becoming a media concern and there was an increased emphasis on animal handling. E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella concerns were developing as public health issues.

Individual identification was just starting to be accomplished in a small portion of feedlots.

There were a lot of economic and marketing issues that impacted the feedlot industry, including the 1986 Dairy Buy-Out, changes in the way fat cattle were marketed and the price of feed. The economics of grain production/pricing allowed for the continued expansion of the feedlot industry.

Cattle breeds also had an impact. There was a continued rise in Angus cattle and growth of the black phenotype. Cattle were large — continentals and continental crosses. Due to extensive use of continental breeds in some parts of North America, beef calves entered feedlots at younger ages creating more high-risk animals. Improved genetics in feeder cattle was being seen via improved genetics in cow-calf herds utilizing EPD’s.

Jack-in-the-Box and food safety
The 1990s brought food safety into sharper focus. In 1993, beef took a hit in consumers’ eyes when the restaurant chain Jack-in-the-Box suffered a major crisis involving E. coli bacteria. Four people died and hundreds of others became sick after eating undercooked hamburgers contaminated with the bacteria in the Pacific Northwest. A food-safety initiative was put into place, including a new mandate that Jack-in-the-Box hamburgers be cooked well-done. Restaurants nationwide soon followed that example.

BRD was still the main economic disease of the feedlot, but now E. coli, Salmonella, and anything that caught the eye of “human interest” reporters were on the radar screen. There was interest in hemorrhagic BVDV Type 2, acute interstitial pneumonia, and Mycoplasma. The fear of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) that was spreading worldwide initiated an FDA ban on feeding ruminant-to-ruminant byproducts in 1997. Foot-and-mouth (FMD) disease was still quite prevalent in other countries, causing increased awareness and concern in the U.S.

The 90s were also the end of the drug compounding era. The broad use of several pharmaceuticals, including gentamicin and chloramphenicol in cattle was eliminated, mandated by the FDA, with many veterinary organizations, including the AVC, establishing policy statements against their use.

Internet and computer decade
The 1990s became the decade of computers for use in recordkeeping as well as communications. Technologies such as the Internet and e-mail broadened communications and information gathering within and outside of agriculture. Utilizing computer programs, there was an increased sophistication in feeding and bunk management.

New diagnostics such as IHC and PCR tests, electronic thermometers, the use of pour-on endectocides, carcass ultrasound, scales in the hospital chutes and RFID tags began to be used more frequently. Metaphylactic use of antibiotics for BRD control was becoming increasingly common. Longer-duration antimicrobials reduced the number of times cattle went through chutes. Modified-live vaccines continued to improve.

Welfare and alliances boom
The 1990s also saw an increased focus on animal welfare. Animal-welfare expert Temple Grandin, PhD, was a popular and sought-after speaker at many veterinary and livestock industry conferences, as well as a consultant in the packing industry. On the beef quality front, more producers were utilizing BQA techniques and the industry was noting a reduction in injection-site lesions, though consistency in carcass quality still remained an issue.

Antibiotic resistance issues and the relationship between animal-use of antibiotics and human resistance started to heat up, especially with groups such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Packer consolidation and NAFTA were economic issues that producers couldn’t do much about. However, more branded-beef and other alliances promoting value-added product (calves) were being developed. Through those programs, individual animal carcass information was being filtered back to the producer from the packer. Natural programs were gaining ground and there were several pre-conditioning programs developed.

Current threat is foreign disease
In this decade, the fear and threat of foreign animal disease such as FMD weighs on the industry’s mind. In the U.K., 600,000 cattle were destroyed in 2001 when FMD swept through. Almost four million total livestock were destroyed as a result. The USDA is currently working on developing new and more effective FMD vaccines for the National Veterinary Stockpile, and the industry is having more discussions on animal biosecurity and agroterrorism.

Day-to-day, BRD and BVDV in the feedlot are still high on the discussion list — BRD as the major economic feedlot disease, and BVDV as a “popular” disease but of questionable impact on the feedlot (see BVDV sidebar). Chronically diseased feedlot cattle and their prevention, welfare, economics and management are of increasing concern.

Diagnostic tools such as PCR, IHC and ELISA continue to be developed and refined. Animal identification, though not mandatory at this time, has given producers the means to keep more sophisticated records as well as track animals from pasture to plate with high-tech electronic ID tags.

Antibiotic protocols now include terms such a post-treatment intervals and re-treatment moratoriums. Most BVDV vaccines contain both Types 1 and 2 serotypes. Research on needle-free vaccination procedures are being conducted.

Animal welfare and misinformation
An increased emphasis on animal welfare has been building. Activist groups have been successful in forcing legislation as well as policies of food companies to change animal production standards. Affecting feedlots, transportation issues and welfare of cattle at packing plants have been targeted.

Animal welfare auditing of feedlot operations by third-party auditors, though promoted by some retailers, consumer groups, and pushed by activists, has had lukewarm response at this time from the majority of the industry. This area, however, may have opportunities for veterinarians in the future.

Increasing organic and “natural” programs in agriculture, coupled with a backlash against technologies such as rBST use in dairy, has led to a feeding frenzy of negative media reports and activist claims. Misinformation abounds about antibiotic use, growth promotants and other technologies used in cattle production. Food safety is still top-of-mind for the industry including the judicious use of antibiotics in food-animal production.

More feedlots are feeding cattle in “natural” programs in response to retailer and consumer demand. Some producers are skipping the feedlot for grass-fed programs. In 2007 there are about 50 beef alliance programs, many of them with veterinary involvement and health protocols.

Labor issues have also changed feedlot management, which in some cases has shifted animal health protocols. Some products might be selected and used in protocols to fit with available labor.

Ethanol is the hot button issue of 2007. Of concern to the feedlot is cost of feed as well feeding by-product or non-traditional feeds which will impact nutrition and health. It’s common to find presentations on ethanol by-products at veterinary conferences intermingled with more traditional topics such as disease and management.

Currently the Farm Bill is of major concern regarding a ban on packer ownership which could affect alliances and the marketing of cattle, and other issues such as country-of-origin labeling. Export issues revolve around electronic identification and source verification of cattle — both are areas where veterinarians can play a part.

My, how we’ve changed

AVC’s first president in 1972, David Bechtol, DVM, outlines the significant changes he has seen in his 41 years of feedlot practice:

  • Vaccines: We used to use only IBR-Leptospira pomona. Now all kinds of combinations are being used as other diseases, both viral and bacterial, are being diagnosed.
  • Scab/external parasite control: Was done by organophosphate dipping vats and now we use pour-on and injectable compounds.
  • Pharmaceuticals: We primarily used terramycin, penicillin, neomycin, sulfas and combinations of all of those. Now we have other compounds such as tylosins, ceftiofurs, macrolides, florfenicols, enrofloxacins, etc. Not only did we get more potent antibiotics, but the duration of action became longer. Today single-day therapy for BRD is a thing of the past. Post treatment intervals of 3 to 7 days is common. 
  • Anthelmentics: We went from injectable and drenches that were marginally effective to effective white dewormers and avermectin-type compounds with extended spectrums and extended activity.
  • Implants: We used diethylstilbestrol (DES) only, later zeranol and now all combinations of estradiol, progesterone and testosterone.
  • Records: We went from basically nothing to handwritten, computer office accounting records to computerized chute-side programs.
  • Equipment: We used manual squeeze chutes then and now hydraulic chute systems. We have electronic cattle management systems, including ultrasound, and systems recording individual consumption.
  • Cattle purchases to slaughter: From “on the hoof” to contracts, to formulas, to alliances and marketing groups.

AVC’s early days

Al Abdullah, DVM, graduated from veterinary school at Texas A&M in 1957. He got started doing feedlot work out of Dumas, Texas, where feedlots were evolving out of existing family-owned farmer-stockman operations.

In 1958, Darrell Farmer, DVM, and his wife established a large animal clinic in Clovis, N.M. Not long after that, the stocker and feedlot industry began to expand and grow at an unbelievable rate. “We as practitioners began to experience many problems were totally unprepared for,” says Farmer. “Transportation, nutrition, disease processes, pen management and a host of others.”

This was time, says Farmer, of “gooseneck pharmacies” and homemade concoctions to treat diseases such as “Shady Lady,” “Panther Pee,” and “Hope Dope,” to name a few. “The universities and academia were as unknowledgeable and inexperienced as we were concerning the disease processes we encountered,” explains Farmer. “It was a work in progress.”

It became apparent that feedlot practitioners needed to come together as professionals to share experiences and knowledge. Unable to find much feedlot information through local veterinary organizations, Abdullah says in 1969 he and others began to meet in Amarillo — David Bechtol, W.J. Hill, Hal Rinker, Bob Cator, Chuck Deyhle, Bill Sippel, Don Mackey, Duane Flack, Don Williams — familiar names to many in the feedlot industry were some of the early participants.

Farmer says a group of veterinarians also organized the West Texas-Eastern New Mexico Veterinary Medical Association. “Frank, honest, spirited discussions between members enabled us to serve our clientele more effectively,” says Farmer.

“It finally occurred to us that we needed an organization for feedlot veterinarians,” says Abdullah. Farmer adds that this group of veterinarians ultimately morphed into the Academy of Veterinary Consultants which held its first meeting in 1972 in Amarillo, presided over by its first president, David Bechtol, DVM.

“This organization developed and instilled a comradery that is still evident, vibrant and strong in the AVC today,” Farmer says.

Events that impacted the feedlot industry

Throughout the years, many factors influence the feedlot industry such as politics, economics and consumer eating habits. Some of the significant events regarding health and/or production aspects that veterinarians play a role in, are impacted by or have learned from have been:

  • 1971: Diseases of Feedlot Cattle textbook written by Rue Jensen and Don Mackey is published.
  • 1972: First meeting of the newly-formed Academy of Veterinary Consultants was held.
  • 1982: USDA FSIS began developing the Pre-Harvest Beef Safety Production Program.
  • 1986: Texas Cattle Feeders Association initiated the first state BQA program in the country.
  • 1993: Jack-In-The-Box E. coli incident, 4 children died, many others sickened.
  • 1995 (July): In a 24-hour period, 3,750 feedlot cattle in a 13-county area of western Iowa died from heat stress caused by an unusual combination of heat and humidity.
  • 1996 (April): Oprah Winfrey causes two-week cattle market crash after “disparaging” beef on TV — is sued by Texas cattlemen for libel.
  • 1997: Ruminant Feed Ban put in place in the U.S. by FDA to prevent BSE.
  • 2001 (Feb.): FMD discovered in England, 600,000 cattle euthanized out of almost 4 million
    total livestock de-populated.
  • 2001: September 11 attack leading to increased concerns about agricultural safety.
  • 2003 (Dec.): BSE found in Washington State cow; subsequent Japanese and South Korean ban of American beef.
  • 2004: USDA Process Verified Program requirements established.
  • 2006 (March): BSE found in an Alabama cow.
  • 2006 (July): U.S. beef from cattle 20 months or younger allowed into Japan.