Note: This story appeared in the May issue of Drovers and is the fourth part of a five part series.

Calculating the costs of bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) to the cattle industry is a difficult chore because it touches so many areas. Taking the task to determine how financially burdensome BVD can be, Derrell Peel, Extension livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University, looked at all facets of the cattle industry from cow-calf, stockers, feedlots and even dairies.

“BVD impacts all sectors of the industry in different ways,” Peel says.

“A lot of the loss is probably not even recognized by producers,” he adds.

Peel looked at an array of economic studies that have been performed over the years analyzing the costs associated with BVD on individual sectors and found:

  • Beef cows $20 to $30 per cow
  • Dairy cows $45 to $55 per cow
  • Stocker and Feedlot calves $20 to $45 per feeder animal
  • All cattle and calves $17 to $28 per head

Peel estimates the total loss to the industry is $1.54 to $2.59 billion. However, he cautions estimates varied widely in the studies because of different population sets, various methodologies as well as economic assumptions.

“I think these numbers probably capture the impacts in a general sense across the industry,” Peel relates. “The important part is it’s a big number.”

Since 1986, the U.S. calf crop has dropped almost 4%. Peel says the loss can’t all be attributed to BVD, but symptoms related to the disease such as early embryonic death and declining reproduction should be worrisome to cattlemen.

“The question becomes if you could take out those BVD impacts, how much would this change? I don’t know that we know the answer,” Peel says.

Another area of angst for Peel was looking at the stocker-backgrounder segment. Feedlots tend to keep good data on death loss and health. In stockers there just hasn’t been the same amount of research and data accumulated. Peel estimates there are going to be more PI-calves at the stocker-backgrounder phase compared to feedlots. Some of those cattle won’t even make it onto the next level.

“Part of the challenge of attributing impacts specifically to BVD is the fact it is so closely linked to other diseases, such as BRD (bovine respiratory disease),” Peel says.

Feedlots have experienced higher instances of death loss during the past 20 to 30 years. According to Kansas State Universities’ Focus on Feedlots survey statistics, death loss has risen 0.52% in the past 22 years.

With data from a single commercial feedlot, Peel found the death loss had risen 0.042% per year from 1982 to 2014, for a total increase of 1.39%.

Peel says the beef industry needs to figure out why these death loss numbers and decreased reproduction are occurring—it’s not likely BDV is to blame for it all.


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