Recently released data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) illustrate current trends in feedyard health management practices.

Groups of cattle often arrive in feedyards at high risk for respiratory disease. In fact, NAHMS researchers note, some shipments of cattle can include a high percentage that already have bacterial infections, although they might not show any signs of disease.

NAHMS data indicate that 81 percent of large feedyards, with capacity for 8,000 head or more, sometimes use metaphylaxis, or group treatment with antibiotics upon arrival for high-risk cattle. A smaller number, 26.5 percent, of feedlots with 1,000 to 7,999 head capacity use this strategy. The portion of animals receiving metaphylaxis treatment upon arrival, however, was only 10.4 percent of the total from all feedyards in the survey. This indicates that feedyards limit their use of group treatment to those shipments at particularly high risk for disease.

The NAHMS survey also asked respondents to rate the importance of various factors in determining whether to employ metaphylaxis in a particular group of cattle. Cattle feeders most often identified the following criteria as “important.”
1. Appearance of the animals upon arrival: 65 percent

2. History of shipping fever problems with cattle from the same source: 53.1 percent

3. Known history of lack of vaccination against respiratory disease: 49.3 percent

4. Source of cattle: 47.9 percent

5. Occurrence of respiratory disease in some cattle in the group: 47.8 percent

6. Long shipping distance/increased shrink: 46.1 percent

Appropriate use of antibiotics in livestock production has become an important quality-assurance issue. Data from the NAHMS survey indicate that feedyards are taking positive steps to ensure that their crews use the products correctly, although there is some room for improvement.

Almost three out of four feedyards provide formal training in antimicrobial use, employing qualified feedyard personnel, veterinary consultants or drug-company representatives to conduct the training. Nearly half of the feedyards surveyed use written guidelines with the formal training, for label use of antibiotics and for residue avoidance. About half provide training on disease diagnosis without written guidelines.