The Moos Room™

Dr. Joe goes over a case study of a feedlot that is having issues with BRD at 30 DOF. Common problem with complicated variables to consider, some in your control, and some that aren't. What now and what are the next steps? Listen to find out!

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What is The Moos Room™?

Hosted by members of the University of Minnesota Extension Beef and Dairy Teams, The Moos Room discusses relevant topics to help beef and dairy producers be more successful. The information is evidence-based and presented as an informal conversation between the hosts and guests.

Joe Armstrong: What is up everybody? This is Dr. Joe Armstrong. You're listening to The Moos Room. Today, you're stuck with just me again. Brad is off at World Dairy Expo. Usually, he's sitting in the stands, wearing a big Kentucky Derby hat, drinking cocktails, and watching the show. Emily is off today because it is her birthday. Big shout out to her. Happy birthday, Emily. Last week we talked about pink eye and my opportunity at a farm to go and visit and try to help them solve a problem. This week we're talking about another farm that gave me a call, has an issue.
I have not been to the farm yet. If I do get a chance to go, have the opportunity to visit, help them try to problem-solve what's going on, I will let you know what's happening. If I don't, I'll let you know that as well. What is going on in this farm and why did they call? This one is a fairly common issue and it's one that I have seen a lot. It's something I dealt with in practice quite often. This farm raises quite a few dairy cross-beef animals. They get them in pretty young so that lightweight in is a big risk factor when we talk about high risk for morbidity and mortality.
Just in weight, being lighter on the in weight to the feedlot is a huge factor in whether or not that animal is considered high risk. We'll get into more about high-risk cattle and that discussion in a little bit. Let's get into the background on what, at least I know right now. This farmer calls and he says, "All right, we get cattle in at 10 weeks old." That's pretty young, really going into a feedlot, fairly common when we're talking about dairy animals. They get them in at 10 weeks. They get them in in relatively small groups, and they keep them small and then step them up to bigger groups as we go.
What we're seeing is that they come in at 10 weeks old and then about 4 weeks later they start to break with respiratory issues. It doesn't seem to matter what the feedlot does or what they change or what they try to do different, this is what they're dealing with every time, and they're losing quite a few cattle. Not only treating quite a few but what we're seeing is that a lot of these cattle get to about four weeks in on feed and they start going downhill and regardless of treatment, they just continue to go downhill and they lose them. Overall, very classic for a BRD situation.
Now, in this case, we're dealing with dairy cross beef animals that grew up on a dairy, raised on milk, weaned fairly early. Much different than dealing with that just-weaned beef calf that's actually 6, 7, 8 months old already. The discussion I have a lot of times with these feedlots that are getting in dairy animals, whether it's dairy, cross beef, or just straight Holstein, whatever it is, is what do we really have control over? Because we know how that animal's taken care of early in life, and especially pre-weaning, including the colostrum management, has a huge impact on that animal's lifetime performance.
The problem is that these feedlots don't have control over that unless they have an excellent relationship with the source. What can we control? We start at the feedlot, we look at all the things that they're doing, trying to get everything right. Talking to this farmer, they're doing a lot of things right. Now, I love to go to the farm and make sure I have my head wrapped around what's actually going on in the system, and I want to confirm that everything is going right at the feedlot in terms of how they manage those cattle on entry. That includes bedding, bunk space, extra water, shade if you need it in the summer, windbreaks if you need it in the winter, if you're not under a roof, all those kinds of things.
We talk about ventilation, and on top of that, we try to get the feedlot right first. There's only so much you can do, but you can control what's happening at your feedlot. We start there and then we start looking externally after that. Just on a personal note, I think I did a really poor job of this when I was younger especially when I first started in practice. When there's an issue, when there's a problem when something's not going right, I think it's very common for people to look externally first, and I did the same thing a lot. I'm trying to be better about it.
When I see a problem, I'm having an issue, things are not going my way, I try to look internally first. "What can I do different? What am I doing wrong? What can I do better?" Then once I've fixed myself, I look externally. That's the same attitude I have when I look at a feedlot or any system that has a problem. Let's control what we can control. Let's make ourselves better. That's going to help us no matter what's happening externally. Then once we've got ourselves sorted out, we try to figure out what's going on externally. Now, that's definitely a wishy-washy vague thing to say, and it's not super realistic because we need to solve the problem as quickly as possible so we have to work on both sides at the same time.
If there's an external problem, we need to solve that. At the same time, we're improving ourselves. I think it's the right mindset going into these things. Now, the temptation is let's find the bug and let's treat the bug. Whether that is preventatively with a vaccine or with an antibiotic at certain time points, or at least let's know which one we need to treat for. Very rarely, that is the solution, where we actually just have to find which bug we're dealing with and then treat for it. Most of the time we're looking at a bigger system with a lot more variables and a lot more interactions than simply, what bug is it, let's treat for that.
Now, knowing what bug is causing our issue or if there is a specific one, is still a huge piece of the puzzle that we need, but it's not where we stop. Most of what we're trying to do is figure out what the problem is and then decide how much control we have over it, and then come up with solutions to either change how much control we have or if there's no way to take more control of that, figure out what we can do in the meantime until we can't. Let's get back to our farm and what we're dealing with here. We've got a feedlot that gets calves in at 10 weeks old.
They're breaking four weeks later and they go downhill and we can't stop it. First step is, have you done any necropsies? Have you opened up any animals? Do we know what's going on? Are they chronic and severely chronic? Are they acute cases that we're not getting a handle on? Are we not identifying them early enough? What is going on inside the animal? If you've got a bunch of deads, we should have been opening them up to give us more information. This had not been done yet on this farm. My first recommendation to them is, "I need some deads opened."
That is a great job for your local veterinarian, and they need to come and be involved in that process of opening up these deads and seeing what's going on. This can give me information on what bug we're dealing with, especially if we take samples and submit them to the diagnostic lab. It can also give me a lot of information about timeline. If I open that animal up and those lungs are completely consolidated, their heart is a rock, and there's big adhesions to the body wall, I clearly know this problem has been going on a long time. That's very different than if I open up these animals and those lungs are not consolidated.
We have signs of acute inflammation. That's a very different scenario. Opening up animals gives me a lot of information, mostly about timeline. It allows me to figure out, "Okay, where in the system are we really looking or are we dealing with it everywhere?" Because That is valuable information as well, and it leads my mind in a different direction. Like I said, doing a necropsy allows me to also submit samples and get a handle on what bug, which I said is very critical. It's just not where we stop. What bug we're dealing with can help me figure out how to fix it now while we search for the actual problem.
It gives me also information about, "Am I worried about a viral disease or a bacterial disease, or both." It gives me a chunk of information that I can latch onto and then take that and extrapolate what could possibly be happening in the system as a whole that allows this bug to take hold. That's step number one. Let's get some more information. Let's get some of these mortalities opened so we can get information about timeline and what bug we're dealing with if there's one we can identify. After that, it's about getting to the farm. Like I said, I need to confirm that things are going well and they're being done correctly.
I trust this farmer. I really do think he's doing almost everything perfect. It sounds like it. If that's the case, let's talk about possible things that could be going on. If we're saying this feedlot does an excellent job on the management side of taking these animals in, keeping them low stress, bedding, water, feed, everything handled correctly on that end, we're going to assume those things are good. If those things are good, what do we do next? We've taken care of the internal factors, now we get a chance to look externally. What's the source?
That is a huge, huge question when we talk about feedlots and where they're getting animals. Where are you getting them? How many groups do they come from? How many different sources make up that group? How long do the calves get a chance to be together before they come to the feedlot? There's a lot of different questions and a lot of different ways to ask questions about sources, and really what we're trying to get at is how many different groups and different sources made up this one group that I brought to my feedlot. Now, if you ask that question, "As how many sources are in this group?" That can be a difficult question to get a straight answer about because let's say I'm putting together a group at the sale barn and I buy from eight different dairies to put this group together, I have the opportunity to say, "That is one source. I bought them at the sale barn. They're one source." That is not correct and that's not the information I want. I want to know that there's eight different dairies in that one group, which would make this group more high risk than if they came from one dairy.
The best way to ask this question, in my opinion, is how long has this entire group, has all of these calves, been together? If the person can say, "Oh, they've been together since birth because they all came from one dairy," straightforward answer, we know they're all from one source. If they say, "Well, they've been together for three days because I put them together at the sale barn," it's a lot harder to step around this question of how many different sources truly make up a group, if you ask, "How long have all of these calves, with no additions to the group, been together?"
When we take this question of source to this farm, what we get is an answer that makes me a little nervous about source, but it's not uncommon and ultimately your feedlots just got to be full. That's what you're worried about more than anything. Empty feedlots aren't making any money. We're getting calves on this farm from an order buyer in Wisconsin, where he's putting together groups from multiple dairies, usually buying from a sale barn and then bringing these groups back to this feedlot.
Now, the cool thing about this order buyer is that they are splitting the group and sending some of them to their customer and keeping some of them and raising them themselves. It's basically in my mind, a great thing to do as an order buyer because you're checking your own quality. If you are having problems, chances are your customers are having problems and you can start to tease out where you want to buy calves and where you don't want to buy calves, and that is the case in this situation. The order buyer is having the exact same problem as the feedlot that gave me a call.
If the order buyer's having problems with the same group of calves in a completely different system, once they get to the feedlot, now you've got a pattern. It's possible that both of these feedlots are doing the same thing wrong, that's allowing this problem to occur, but it's less likely than if I'm just looking at one feedlot. Now I need the same thing or a similar set of things to be wrong on both feedlots for the same disease process to happen.
In my mind, when we see this situation, where I've got a farmer who I think is doing an excellent job and clearly knows what they're talking about and I've got an order buyer who looks at cattle all day and probably knows their way around the game as well, and they're both having the same issue, now we're looking at source as the problem. What's happening to these calves early in life is probably setting them up for failure in the feedlot and regardless of what you're going to be able to do well at your feedlot in terms of management and keeping stress low, is not going to matter much if they're already screwed up when you get them.
What's next? Well, I think source is the problem. Now what can we do about it? Well, for a lot of feedlots, there's not much we can do about it. You're going to continue to make sure your feedlot is full and identifying a source big enough, that's one dairy or even just two dairies, to provide all your calves, is very difficult, especially right now because calves are at a premium.
For me, the next step is I need some of that necropsy information. I need to know what's going on so I can confirm some timeline. If I get back that a lot of these calves are crazy chronic with huge amounts of consolidation, lots of adhesions, I'm going to probably assume that we have a source issue as long as I can get to this farm and confirm that they're doing everything that they can right. We'll still make changes on the farm to see if we can alleviate or mitigate some of the issues they're having if I can find something. It might be that they're doing everything right already.
Big thing to note, when I'm going to these farms, I'm not going alone. I'm always reaching out to the local veterinarian to see what's going on there. I'm always looking at their nutritionist as well, especially in a feedlot, but also in cow, calf, a dairy. Anytime I'm on a farm, I love to be in contact with a nutritionist because that's where a lot of the problems get solved. Is with the nutrition side of things and frankly, that nutritionist is going to know way, way more about nutrition than I do, and they're going to have a better relationship with that farmer anyway.
That's the plan. We're waiting on necropsy information. We're waiting on the time that I can get to the farm with everybody involved, local veterinarian and nutritionist. I will keep you updated on what I find. I think it'll be fun to walk through this again as a series, a case study series where we look at what's going on and maybe I find a solution, maybe I don't.
Thank you for listening everybody. If you have questions, comments or scathing rebuttals to this episode, please, please send them to That's Check us out on Twitter @UMNmoosroom and @UMNFarmSafety. Check Bradley out on Instagram @UMNWCROCDairy. Check out the website and brand new, we are now on AGRA America's podcast directory. Very excited about that opportunity. I'll put the link in the show notes. I think there's some other great podcast opportunities on there for you to listen to if you're searching for one, and if you drive like me all the time, I'm always looking for new podcasts, so check that out. It's in the show notes. Thank you for listening everybody. We'll catch you next week. Bye.
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