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Improving hospital pen management one pen rider at a time

Nels Lindberg for Progressive Cattleman Published on 22 September 2017
Pen riders

Hospital pen management is not only a necessity but often dictates therapeutic outcomes, whether it is successful or not.

We have highly skilled cattlemen focused intently each day on observing individual animal health, and we do a good job of identifying and treating sick animals. But ensuring we complete the full treatment process depends on how we manage those animals once we get them to the hospital for treatment.

To give more perspective on morbidity prevalence in the feedyard, in the Production Animal Consultation database, which represents almost 20 percent of the cattle on feed, there were 415,000 first-time pulls and 97,000 total retreats. That means we had over a half-million animals go through a feedyard hospital system of some sort in 2016.

Because there are many different yards feeding a variety of animals, we see a wide range of initial morbidity rates and retreat rates. Yard average morbidity rates range from less than 3 percent to 35 percent, and retreat rates range from 10 percent to over 60 percent.

As you can see, there are a number of cattle being pulled from several different yards. This is why, when we consult a yard, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. To achieve success in a hospital, there are a few things to remember: Every yard is different; it depends on the yard, the people and their daily duties; and antimicrobials used are different at each yard – and post-treatment intervals can be different for each drug.

Changes in treatment

Antimicrobials are much different today than they were 20 years ago, resulting in changes to how we manage a hospital. Twenty years ago, many of our drugs didn’t last 24 hours in the animal, and we had to do daily therapies (also known as multi-day therapy regimens or day one, day two, day three regimens).

But as our drugs have advanced massively in improvement, their duration of activity has as well, and the need to repeat therapy the next day isn’t needed.

Most of all, the common “newer generation” antimicrobials last three to seven days, allowing us to completely change our hospital management. We have to ask ourselves: Are hospital pens the best environment to put sick animals, or will they do better at home with their familiar penmates?

A hospital – human or animal – concentrates sick patients and, for biosecurity, is likely not always the best place for them to recover, due to breach in biosecurity and further blending and spreading of pathogens.

We call this the “blender effect.” We bring various pulls from across the yard, which could have originated from various parts of the U.S., blend those animals from different pens and send them back home.

We look to not only manage the sick animal but to manage the pathogen and reduce its ability to spread among animals by getting those animals home the same day they are pulled.

This newer technique of pull and go home the same day or the next has been a very nice improvement in treatment and hospital success due to reducing pathogen exposure time in our hospitals. However, we must keep in mind factors where it may be better to keep a sick animal in the hospital. Those determining factors are:

1. Number of times treated: We may want to keep an animal treated for the second or third time if too weak to compete in the home pen.

2. Distance to and from home pen to the hospital: If an animal has to travel over a quarter-mile to the hospital, keeping them a day in the hospital may be better rather than excessive travel in one day.

3. Bunk space and pen size in the home pen: If bunk space is too tight or pen space is too small for a weaker animal to compete at home.

4. Time of year: Summertime often restricts the number of hours in the day to move animals, and we don’t want to take them home in the afternoon when it’s too hot.

Beyond those factors, there are many “devils” in the details to complete the full picture, and it generally deals with our tribes of people in the trenches. We look for them to pull and treat cattle early in the day, and that involves crews working together to ensure pulls are doctored early each day. The operation that gets cattle pulled and treated earlier in the day will be more successful.

Better communicators

We also ask our people to exercise our hospital and recovery pens. Daily movement – taking these animals for a little jog – is crucial to positive stimulation and promoting pulmonary health. We also need to ensure there is excellent communication among our crew members on who is evaluating animals in the hospital for retreatment and for go-homes.

Each day is a crucial day for decision-making opportunities on individuals and the next treatment opportunity. Any day missed is another day we fail the individual animal.

We often get focused on the medicine details, but we often fail in the communication aspect of what we do in hospitals. Highly efficient and successfully run feedyard hospitals have high levels of communication among all those involved in the animal health team, from cowboys to doctorers and doctorers to cowboys – and all others involved such as the owner, manager and cattle foreman.

Communication is the largest breakdown in the daily grind of what we do, creating much opportunity for failure. We have many wonderful ladies in our operations, but the majority are males – and it’s important to recognize males are terrible communicators.

Research shows the average male says 7,000 words a day whereas the average female says 20,000 words a day. If you are a male, it’s important to work on your communication – be it as we communicate our observations of a sick animal, how we treat the animal, whether we deem an animal can go home or not, or any other items to discuss to make the therapeutic or hospital management decisions for the best therapeutic outcome for each individual animal.  end mark

PHOTO: Pen riders have a daily responsibility to determine whether to move sick animals to hospital pens or to leave them in their familiar environment. Staff photo.

Nels Lindberg
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