Receiving cattle can be a difficult time, considering the sources for those cattle may be unknown. That creates a greater health risk when those cattle arrive to your pastures, and more than likely, an animal will either be sick coming off the truck or soon start heading downhill healthwise.

Since the best defense is a good offense, you want to know what action you will take as those cattle come off the truck. With the fast pace on arrival, there usually isn’t time to make a detailed diagnosis of the causative organism before beginning treatment.

Beef specialists at the University of Florida say that bovine respiratory disease complex and diseases resulting in diarrhea cause 99 percent of the health problems during the first three weeks after arrival. BRD is caused by a combination of respiratory viral infections and stress, compounded by bacterial infections.

Here are tips from Ed Richey, retired Extension veterinarian at the University of Florida.

Sick cattle are medicated for bacterial infections in general rather than specific diseases, with the exception of bloody diarrhea. In all cases, cattle designated and identified as sick are medicated while in the squeeze chute for routine processing. The sick animals are medicated one of two ways, the deciding factor being the presence or absence of bloody diarrhea.

  • Sick animals without bloody diarrhea, pulled due to visible signs of illness or high body temperature, are treated with an injectable antibiotic or a combination of an injectable antibiotic and oral sulfa.
  • Animals with bloody diarrhea, with or without a fever (104° F or greater), are treated with a combination of injectable antibiotic and an oral drench containing medication to treat coccidiosis and an antibiotic to treat bacterial gut infections. (Bloody diarrhea is generally caused by either coccidiosis and/or bacterial gut infections).

Cattle displaying non-bloody diarrhea are essentially ignored when processed. The loose stools may be due to a change in diet or a heavy worm load. Put cattle on a high roughage diet and worm them during processing. This often alleviates the problem.

The processing crew should not be given a choice of treatment; treatments should be designated in advance by the veterinarian and the owner of the cattle. The only decision required of the processing crew is determination of the presence or absence of bloody diarrhea. This judgment decision is usually made when a crew member is obtaining the body temperature.

It is necessary to record the medication administered to the animal on the treatment portion of the record. The tag number, date of treatment, body temperature, severity of illness and the amount of each medication administered are recorded.

As cattle leave the squeeze chute, separate sick cattle from non-sick cattle. All animals (sick and non-sick) should be held near the working area until the processing operation is complete. This permits easy observation for the detection of reactions to vaccinations or medications.

After processing is complete, non-sick cattle should be moved to drylots or small pastures, observed twice daily for 14 days, and pulled when and if detected as sick. Non-sick cattle in drylots or on pasture should be pulled as sick by visual inspection alone. They should not be run through the chute and have their temperature taken each day.

Those cattle pulled as sick after processing should be administered the same treatment program as the cattle designated sick at processing.

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