The recent Drovers' article, “Fatigued Cattle Syndrome: The Search for Solutions,” highlights an opportunity for the entire industry to continue to improve on practices that positively impact cattle health and well-being.

This article follows the publication of “Description of a Novel Fatigue Syndrome of Finished Feedlot Cattle Following Transportation,”  (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2015;247:66–72) by Daniel Thomson, D.V.M., Ph.D., the Jones Professor of Production Medicine and Epidemiology at Kansas State University, in collaboration with other notable researchers.

The independent research concluded that cattle that are stressed during the end of the feeding period may experience fatigued cattle syndrome (FCS). Symptoms of FCS include strained breathing, slow or lethargic movement, or non-ambulatory cattle. Moreover, with regard to the causes of such stress, the study determined that factors such as heat load, animal size, cattle handling, time of day at shipping and animal transportation caused stress during the summer leading to cattle that were fatigued. In addition, factors once at the packing plant can contribute to cattle being fatigued, including time spent standing, available shade, water cooling, pen surface, cattle handling and density of cattle in pens.

FCS is Multifactorial

The identification of FCS is significant for producers, nutritionists, veterinarians and packing plant personnel – really anyone who works with cattle – because it brings to light multiple factors that can impact cattle movement. At the same time, we concur that this novel research offers a chance for the industry to work together to create solutions for continuing improvement in the area of cattle well-being now and in the future.

“Our research has not shown any direct link of FCS to the use of any beta agonist in finished cattle.  While there has been a black cloud of doubt over these products, our research does not support such claims,” said Dr. Thomson. “Cattle that are fed beta agonists are no more likely to develop FCS than other cattle, and there are no differences in this regard whether the cattle are fed zilpaterol, ractopamine or are not fed a beta agonist at all. This is not surprising given both molecules are beta agonists that function in the same manner. In reality, the factors that contribute most significantly to FCS are the finished weight of cattle, heat stress and animal handling practices.”

Additional Research Showed No Negative Impact of Zilpaterol on Cattle Well-Being

In 2014, 36 abstracts involving Zilmax were presented at the Joint Annual Meeting of the American Society of Animal Science, American Dairy Science Association and Canadian Society of Animal Science. Eight of these abstracts examined the safety of Zilmax on cattle well-being.

Working independently, research teams from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and seven well-respected universities evaluated cattle fed Zilmax against key indicators of cattle well-being, including mobility, behavior, stress and physiological indicators (heart rate, body temperature, blood chemistry). The findings showed no negative impact on animal well-being when the product was used according to product label and in conjunction with sound animal husbandry practices.

FCS Prevention and Monitoring Program

Dr. Thomson is confident FCS can be managed effectively but efforts must target the contributing factors.  “We need to attack FCS with boots-on-the-ground training, as well as providing online resources, that are practical and actionable,” noted Dr. Thomson. “Our focus should be on the contributing factors that we can change at both the feedlot and packing plant so as to minimize and potentially eliminate FCS, such as our animal handling practices, heat stress mitigation (shade and water cooling), staging and facility conditions.

“Again, it must also include packing plant factors, including time spent standing, pen surface, density of cattle in pens and minimization of the amount of stressors animals experience. In some cases, this may mean making changes to the way we handle, move and transport cattle, and identifying the animals that may be more susceptible to heat stress, as well as taking proactive measures to minimize their potential impacts on cattle health and well-being.”

To respond to the FCS issue, Dr. Thomson and Chris Reinhardt, Ph.D., Professor, Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine and the Department of Animal Science and Industries, are developing a prevention program. It will feature educational modules, training videos and handouts, to assist feedlots, transporters and packers in the identification and management of FCS.

We believe it’s important to support this program and have agreed to fund it because it is something that will benefit the entire industry. We want to make good practices better, provide information and training, support the needs of producers and contribute to the industry’s continuous improvement efforts. 

Training topics will include:

  • Physiology of exhaustion and heat stress
  • Handling finished cattle, e.g., gathering in the home pen; moving cattle in the yard; pen weighing finished cattle; and holding pen management of finished cattle
  • Loading and transporting finished cattle, e.g., loading facilities; handling cattle in a tub or bud box; proper trailers for finished cattle; and transporting finished cattle
  • Cattle comfort at packing plants, e.g., time spent waiting on the truck and in the holding pens; lairage and shade, water cooling, cattle density in a pen, pen surface management; and cattle handling at the plant

As part of the prevention program, a monitoring feature would help packers to identify problems in real time for quick diagnosis and corrective actions. All cases would be incorporated into the educational portfolio for further training of feedlots and packers. In addition, Drs. Thomson and Reinhardt’s research team will establish a normal baseline for FCS, and to ensure that FCS is being accurately defined in the field and differentiated from other mobility issues.

Looking Forward

As Dr. Thomson noted, “From a safety or animal well-being perspective, there are no concerns about feeding any FDA-approved beta agonist, including Zilmax.” The prevention efforts of Dr. Thomson and his colleagues will bring focus to the causal factors that have been identified by sound scientific research. We are pleased to support those efforts, which will foster a better understanding of FCS among the beef industry and will serve to both define the prevalence of FCS and improve its management, thereby advancing animal well-being – a priority for feedlots, packers and the industry as a whole.