Battling Bovine Respiratory Disease


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Alternative treatments to BRD aim to prevent disease losses by boosting immunity

It’s likely that no cattle operation is satisfied with its current death loss or illness rate. That’s why producers are constantly searching for new and innovative ways to prevent bovine respiratory disease (BRD) before it strikes.battling bovine respiratory disease

“If producers aren’t totally satisfied with what they are doing, they are always looking to add something to their program,” says Larry Hawkins, DVM, senior technical services veterinarian for Bayer HealthCare Animal Health Division. “The type of operation, season of year and quality of cattle make a big difference in producers’ satisfaction with their losses. Occasionally there are pens that do go out and have no death loss.”

Despite advances in vaccination and antibiotic technology, BRD incidence and severity hasn’t declined in the last 10 years. Combined with regulatory pressures like the veterinary feed directive (VFD), producers may be looking to reduce their BRD treatment rates through alternative means.

Some of the options producers may consider are vitamin supplements, in-feed probiotics and injectable immunostimulants. These options can be used in conjunction with vaccinations to help prevent BRD and antibiotic treatments for illness.



Probiotics can be added to cattle feed, and some specific strains have been shown to get cattle to the bunk quicker after processing and reduce death and illness losses, says Angel Aguilar, Ph.D., Dipl. ACAN, technical services manager with Lallemand Animal Nutrition.

One active dry yeast (ADY) strain in particular, Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii CNCM I-1079, has been shown to improve dry matter uptake after processing, reduce morbidity, reduce mortality, reduce body temperature in feverish animals and improve the overall immune response, he says.

“The ideal protocol would be to include it in the feed prior to shipping cattle as part of the pre-conditioning program,” Aguilar says. “If this is not possible, add it to the feed upon arrival at the feedlot and feed it for 28 to 42 days depending upon cattle condition and risk of disease incidence.”

Probiotics can be used with any ration and are generally added directly to the feed, included in a premix or top dressed. There are no restrictions or withdrawal periods, and ADY probiotics are not affected by antimicrobials.

“The added expense to the feed is very low compared to the antibiotic treatment required when the animal gets sick,” Aguilar explains. “You can expect a ROI of 3- or 4-to-1, based on current costs for the ADY probiotic and an average cost for an approved injectable antibiotic used for treatment of BRD.”


Injectable immunostimulants

While vaccines develop an immune response to target specific pathogens, injectable immunostimulants trigger a broad response to infection via the innate immune system.

“An immunostimulant’s function is to trick the body into responding and getting ready to do battle with a foreign invader during stressful events,” Hawkins explains. “It stimulates an immune reaction and gets the body all geared up to defend itself.”

Unlike a vaccine, immunostimulants gear up the immune system against all foreign invaders – not just a specific pathogen.

Hawkins says immunostimulant can be used at the time of a stressful event, like hauling cattle, a change in weather, a change in herd dynamics or a change in feed. Most operations use a combination of tactics from management to vaccinations – making it harder to pin down the immunostimulant’s exact effect.


Evaluating efficacy

Determining whether to invest in an alternative BRD strategy also depends on the type of cattle producers are dealing with, Hawkins says. For example, bringing cattle from the Southeast to the Midwest challenges cattle with a long haul and a sometimes drastic change in weather conditions.

“Weather plays a role, distance plays a role,” he says. “The choice of producers in where they buy their cattle and how they are raised affect results too.”

Home-raised cattle that are preconditioned and never intermingled with other herds are simply less likely to develop BRD. Investing in alternative BRD prevention strategies may not pay off as much for these producers as those that are purchasing higher-risk cattle such as lightweight cattle from a sale barn.

For producers looking at alternative BRD prevention, the key is to ensure the product is proven to work – otherwise it’s just an added cost without a real benefit. Both Hawkins and Aguilar advise that producers look for products backed by independent research and from a reputable company that manufactures and sells consistent quality products.

“I’d recommend producers look for trial work that proves the product works,” Hawkins says. “Look at the data. If producers are dealing with lightweight calves and the trial work is in heavyweight calves, what they see in those other cattle may not necessarily give the same results.”

Hawkins also says that producers should continue doing the tried-and-true management practices that benefit cattle.

“You’re more likely to have success if cattle get to your facility and you’re prepared for it,” he says. “Have hay in the bunk and a palatable ration for the animal. Maybe trickling water too to entice calves to come drink.”


Need a refresher on the veterinary feed directive (VFD)? Check out our previous articles: