Animal welfare, sustainability and economics are affected when beef cattle suffer from bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Now, according to an announcement from Texas A&M AgriLife Research, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food & Agriculture is providing $465,000 in funding for a four-year study, “Impact of Management Decisions During the Cow/Calf, Backgrounding & Feedlot Phases of Beef Production on BRD Morbidity & Mortality Risks.”
“BRD is hard to simplify, as there are multiple risk factors and pathogens involved, but it is one of the biggest health issues facing the beef and dairy industries,” said Dr. Sarah Capik, assistant professor of ruminant animal health with Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Amarillo, Texas.
How cattle are managed has the potential to affect BRD risk, but further research is needed to quantify those impacts, Capik said.
Capik will lead a multi-state group of scientists in research to determine what effect certain management practices used at different phases of beef production can have on BRD. The project is a collaboration among three institutions that takes advantage of their respective strengths.
Joining Capik's team are Drs. Brad White, Robert Larson and David Amrine with Kansas State University as well as Amelia Woolums, Jane Parish and Brandi Karisch with Mississippi State University.
Measuring management effects
According to the announcement, the team has three objectives:
1. Quantifying the vaccination impact during preweaning on BRD risk during backgrounding and performance during preweaning;
2. Comparing the impact of marketing strategy on BRD risk and performance during backgrounding, and
3. Exploring whether pen-level and yard-level management factors are related to health outcomes at the feedlot.
The researchers also will take samples at key time points to evaluate whether inflammatory mediators can be used to predict health or performance.
“Our project will study whether vaccinations prior to weaning, as well as whether how the calf is marketed after weaning, have an effect on the risk of a calf becoming sick or dying from BRD,” Capik said. “We expect calves sent directly to a backgrounding facility will experience fewer BRD-related events than those going through marketing avenues where they are commingled with other cattle and their arrival at the next facility is delayed.”
Mississippi State and Texas A&M will be primarily responsible for the first two objectives, coordinating to use calves born at the Mississippi Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station’s Prairie Research Unit and then, once weaned, sending them to the Texas A&M AgriLife Research feedlot in Bushland, Texas, for the remainder of the project, Texas AgriLife said.
The Kansas State team will lend expertise to the work done in the first two objectives and also will explore how various management practices in the feedlot — animal density, flow and exposure — affect BRD risk while cattle are in the feedyard using a database of feedlot records to evaluate relevant associations.
“Ultimately, the goal is to identify ways to decrease the incidence of BRD,” Capik said. “Less BRD and healthier cattle mean less need for antimicrobials to treat sick cattle and more sustainable beef production.”