Note: This story appeared in the May issue of Drovers and is the third part of a five part series.
As a backgrounder, Brian Keith receives calves that come from the Southeast that many consider to be high-risk. Keith backgrounds 15,000 cattle per year and has more than 28 years of experience working with high-risk calves.
Keith Cattle Co. receives many put-together load lots purchased through order buyers and delivered to the ranch in Allen, Kan.
“They may come from 50 to 60 different farms and ranches, with different management programs, different vaccination programs or maybe none at all,” Keith says. His goal is to get those cattle on the same plane of health and nutrition before moving on to the next step.
“BVD (bovine viral diarrhea) has been a big, big problem over the years,” Keith adds. For more than 10 years Keith Cattle Co. has BVD persistently infected (PI)-tested every calf that comes through the ranch.
Newly arrived calves are given a day on hay and water before entering the chute for the start of the health program. An ear-notch sample is taken from each calf and sent to a lab 30 miles away in Emporia, Kan. By the following morning Keith will know if a PI-positive calf has entered his starter yard.
All PI-positive calves are sent to a quarantine pen. “They stay there until they die or we harvest them. Keeping those cattle isolated is just paramount,” Keith says.
Two times Keith had a customer who preferred to sell the PI-calf. In those cases the calf was identified with two ear tags marked “PI” and had a big “PI” written in chalk before it entered the local livestock market.
In addition to running a backgrounding operation, Keith is a partner on 300 head of commercial cows. All cows and their calves are tested. New bulls are tested, too.
To prevent any exposure to PI-cattle, Keith built an additional handling facility for his cow-calf herd. He limits nose-to-nose contact by keeping the cows’ pastures isolated from the backgrounding facility.