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Keep ’em from gettin’ sick, Doc!

Bruce Hoffman Published on 24 August 2012

On a recent visit to the heart of the swine industry, a producer and I were talking about the importance of biosecurity on his finishing operations. He was frustrated and was focused on doing more to keep diseases out of his barns.

As I shared my experiences in the cattle industry he said, “We may be 30 years behind the poultry industry, but thank God we are 30 years ahead of the cattle industry!”

That stung! Is it really that evident? Why are we not trying to keep diseases out? Why are we more comfortable in just treating the ones that surface? I have a few thoughts to ponder:

We don’t know what we have …

How many producers ask questions about animals before they bring them on their farm? My experience, which is backed by NAHMS data says, not many.

Now, granted, we raise cattle in the wide open and do not have the pressure of confined feeding inside barns, but does that make it OK not to ask?

When we do bring a deadly disease on the ranch, we stand to lose a lot more because most of us have fewer animals and each one lost is also more valuable.

Purchasing cattle from commingled sources increases the risk of bringing in disease. Is that cheaper buy really a good deal if it causes other animals to get sick?

We don’t know how much it is costing us …

I was impressed with the data the swine guys are looking at to make decisions. They know exactly what diseases are costing them.

We do not control the environment or have the consistent genetics that the swine industry appreciates, but does that mean we are not losing money from poor health?

Many operations keep records but don’t actually evaluate them. We can afford to spend a small amount to assure us that another animal will not be lost to disease.

This makes sense yet we are cost-focused and would rather take a chance that it won’t happen. We are proud to cut corners the years it “works,” but not many of us brag when we’ve just about lost the place because of the health problems that possibly could have been avoided.

We don’t care ...

Wow! Really? Because so many producers do not rely solely on the income from cattle, we can be lax in our management. It is not the end of the world when a few have a health wreck.

We also have the advantage of a small domestic cattle herd and limited supply. This has driven prices higher. As I write this, the corn crop is failing from lack of moisture and the poor yield potential could have negative effects on calf prices this fall.

How do you protect your farm or ranch? Are you doing the right things to keep your calves at the top of the market regardless of the year?

Conclusion

These thoughts may make you mad. If they do, you should evaluate your operation. Fortunately there are many ranches and farms that identify key areas that cannot be compromised.

Many work with a veterinarian to have a consistent plan that limits the risk of disease in their herd. This may include using tests to identify what diseases are in the herd currently and not just wait till a wreck happens.

Some diseases like BVD, Johne’s and BLV can be building, even though visual signs are not evident. Why wait till they get to the problem stage?

When an animal dies, do you just write it off as “well, that will happen,” or do you look to what caused its death?

If it was a mechanical cause, could a facility be modified or training be done to reduce the possibility of it happening again?

This article was not supposed to be a step-by-step guide to fix your place, but I hope it gets you to think. We have a lot of changes taking place in the cattle industry; are you prepared?

I really think we have a great opportunity to increase the amount and value of the protein we raise for a growing population. In order to meet the demand, we need to identify the inefficiencies causing poor performance and health. I would rather be proactive and tell them “been there, done that” than wait till they force us to change.

What industry are we 30 years ahead of?  end_mark

Click here to contact Bruce Hoffman DVM is president of Animal Profiling Inc.

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