Black Ink

Opinion
Aug 3, 2012

Lung adhesions rob profit

—Cattle may show no obvious sign of illness.

Sick cattle are expensive cattle. Treatment is costly in itself, but the side effects of illness keep robbing through lower performance and carcass quality.

An analysis of more than 62,000 calves in Iowa’s Tri- County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF) found the presence of lung adhesions from 2002 to 2011 was negatively correlated with those measures.

“When you add it all up, lung adhesions are pretty costly to the industry,” says Darrell Busby, TCSCF manager.

The 2012 report includes TCSCF retained ownership records from cattle fed in 18 cooperating yards that used common nutrition, health and management strategies. Individual packing plant records were matched with live and harvest data, then sorted into four data groups: cattle without lung adhesions and never treated in the feed yard, no adhesions but treated, adhesions but not treated, and cattle with lung adhesions that were treated.

Overall, 5 percent of the calves had lung adhesions, but only one-third (1,042 head) were treated in the feed yard.

“We ask that all cattle put into the futurity be preconditioned and have two rounds of modified-live vaccines,” Busby says. “I’m not sure our cattle are completely representative of the entire industry.”

Visual observations in the packing plant, where the problem slows the processing chain speed, may indicate a higher incidence nationwide.

“There are several monetary costs to this,” Busby says. “They gain less and they eat less.”

Cattle that were never visibly sick and had no adhesions were heavier at harvest (1,185 lbs. compared to 1,138 lbs. for those treated cattle with lung adhesions) and took fewer days to get there (165 vs. 179).

The non-treated, healthy cattle reached 68.4 percent USDA Choice and above, compared to 53.8 percent for the cattle that had adhesions and received treatment. Even more dramatic was the drop in Certified Angus Beef ® brand acceptance from 17.8 percent to 7.6 percent.

“That’s a big, big reduction in percent Choice,” Busby says. “You also cut Prime down to just a third of a percent. Sure, you improve your yield grades, but those premiums aren’t great enough to offset the quality grade discounts.”

In nearly every category significant to final value, the cattle free of lung adhesions won out: final live and carcass weight, days on feed, average daily gain, cost of gain, dressing percentage and quality grade.

All of this was reflected in final profit per head, where that group earned $67.55 while those with adhesions and treated lost $5.32.

Nobody wants sick calves, but this study punctuates the need to employ prevention strategies diligently.

“When we report this study to producers, most of them say, ‘What happened? My calf has lung adhesions but he was never treated in the feedlot,’” Busby says.

Lung adhesions indicate an animal had health challenges at some point in its life—but not when—so the calf could have been sick earlier, or missed in the feedlot.

“After one of the worst feeding winters, we found lung adhesions were three times normal, indicating environmental factors as well,” Busby reports.

“Based on other work, we know that the younger, lighter calves are the biggest problems,” he says. “So I’d suggest good nutrition at late gestation and early lactation, calves vaccinated and weaned 30 to 45 days—those are proven [on-ranch] methods to reduce health problems in the feedlot.” After placement on feed, the manager can only invest the time to identify sick calves and treat them with effective drugs.

He looks to the future with high hopes for additional tools to combat the problem.

“In our data, the estimated heritability of being susceptible to bovine respiratory disease was 0.18. I hope someday DNA technology will help us identify sires and select for that,” Busby says.

 

To learn more about the analysis, visit www.CABpartners.com. — Miranda Reiman

(“Black ink” is a cattle management column written by Steve Suther and Miranda Reiman of Certified Angus Beef. The column is not designed for strictly Angus producers, and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of WLJ or its editorial staff.)

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