Vaccination is a valuable and effective tool in stocker operations, but University of Arkansas Extension veterinarian Jeremy Powell, and Extension beef cattle specialist Tom Troxel remind producers that respiratory disease can be a problem even in vaccinated cattle.

The most common reason for vaccine failure, the specialists say, is failure to follow label directions, but even with proper vaccination, some animals will not respond due to stress, illness or a naturally inferior immune system.

The stress of handling animals in poor working facilities, they note, can result in increased animal sickness and injury. While some stress is unavoidable, they encourage a “less is more” approach, handling cattle in small groups and working to minimize stress for disease prevention.

But in spite of preventative measures, exposure and stress will result in some cases of respiratory disease, and a rapid response with appropriate treatment will make the difference between success and failure.

Powell and Troxel advise stocker operators to develop a treatment plan before animals actually become sick. Ideally, get your veterinarian involved before the cattle arrive. Set criteria for which animals you will treat for illness, which products you will use and for how long, and how many products you will try before the animal is considered a “chronic.”

At the University of Arkansas, the criteria used for treatment are a rectal body temperature of 104° F or greater, depression, loss of appetite, discharge from the eyes and nose, difficult breathing and coughing. The specialists note that many animals will not show all of these symptoms and that learning to recognize sick animals is as much art as science.

In their health protocol, the specialists treat pulled cattle with an initial antibiotic, then evaluate treated cattle within 24 to 48 hours. If an animal does not appear to respond to the initial treatment, they will treat with a second product. They recommend working closely with your veterinarian to select appropriate products.

In a presentation titled “Selecting your antibiotic,” Kansas StateUniversity veterinarian Hans Coetzee uses the acronym “S.P.A.C.E.” to outline things to consider and discuss with a veterinarian in selecting an antibiotic. The acronym stands for:

Spectrum – Is this drug effective against the bug?

Pharmacokinetics/Dynamics (Pk/Pd) – Can it get to the bug?

Adverse reactions – Is it safe to use this drug?

Compliance – Is it legal to use this drug in this situation?

Environment – Where is the infection I’m treating?

Powell and Troxel note that separating sick animals will give them a chance to recover without having to compete with healthy animals. For the best care and evaluation of sick cattle, locate hospital pens close to a processing chute. They suggest using one pen for new treatments and one for re-pulls. Provide access to fresh, clean water and good-quality hay. Once temperatures have returned to normal and clinical signs are no longer observable, return cattle as quickly as possible to their home pastures.