Sickness in the feedyard can drain profits both directly and indirectly. Some of the indirect costs, such as lost performance or reduced carcass value, can be substantial, although difficult to measure. Direct costs, such as veterinary fees and the cost of medicine for treatments and re-treatments are high enough in themselves to justify exploring more preventative measures.

The recently released Feedlot 99 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) provides average treatment costs for each sick animal. The report compares costs of different types of diseases and contrasts the average costs in small feedlots (1,000 to 7,999 head) with those in feedlots with greater than 8,000-head capacity.

The data indicate that respiratory diseases, such as shipping fever and acute interstitial pneumonia, account for the highest per-animal treatment costs. For most health problems, smaller feedlots tend to keep their treatment costs lower than the average for larger operations.

The following summary chart includes average costs to treat one sick animal, including medicines and related items such as syringes, but not expenses such as veterinary fees or labor.

Cost ($/head)
Condition 1,000 to 7,999 head 8,000 head or more All feedlots
Respiratory disease such as shipping fever 11.09 16.26 12.59
Acute interstitial pneumonia 11.87 16.49 13.33
Digestive problems (excluding non-eaters) 6.14 6.27 6.19
Bullers 0.86 1.55 1.10
Lameness 7.03 9.24 7.68
Central nervous system problems 11.61 11.29 11.50