Animal Welfare and Consumer Relations

Bob L. Larson, DVM, PhD
Beef Cattle Institute
Kansas State University

Providing a safe and healthy environment for cattle is not only the foundation for good animal welfare and efficient production, but is also necessary in order to maintain a positive image of cattle production for consumers.

Day to day care for cattle requires that producers meet each herd’s nutritional and health needs as well as provide housing and handling facilities to ensure their safety and welfare. Cattle are able to eat a wide variety of forages and feeds to meet their nutritional needs. When cattle of almost any age and stage of production are housed on green, growing pastures, they are not likely to require a great deal of additional feed. However, salt and other minerals are required in all cattle diets, and growing calves and yearlings, and lactating cows and heifers require diets that are higher in energy and protein than dry cows and bulls. Cattle grazing dormant forage or being fed harvested hay or other forages may require a supplemental feed or forage that has higher concentrations of energy or protein than the base forage. This supplement may be in the form of high quality hay, grain or grain-byproducts, or other processed feeds. Evaluating weight gain in growing animals and body condition in mature animals provides cattle producers with a simple measure of whether or not a diet is meeting the energy and protein needs of their cattle.

Providing plenty of readily accessible water is another key component in meeting the daily needs of cattle. While well-informed people may disagree about how long cattle can be held away from water without adversely affecting their health and welfare, the basic principle that cattle need plenty of clean water is undisputed. The time of year, the number of cattle, and whether the cattle are near the water source throughout the day or only part of the day all impact the amount of space and the flow rates required. Hot temperatures in summer increase the daily requirement for water and the potential for freezing increases the risk of failed water delivery in the winter. Range situations when cattle are only near the water source for a limited amount of time each day require greater one-time access space and water reserve than cattle housed in small pastures or drylots with continual access to water. Stock tanks or waterers that are not cleaned can result in reduced water intake; and mud, erosion, or other obstacles that make it difficult for cattle to approach a water source can lead to health and welfare problems.

Beef cattle are nearly always housed outside on pastures or drylots which usually means that air quality and sanitation is good. However, cattle housed outdoors in most parts of North America must contend with extremes in temperature and humidity during certain times of the year. Extremely cold and hot temperatures can cause severe stress and health problems. When rainfall is heavy, excessive mud can prevent comfortable resting and be a barrier to feed and water access. Making sure that cattle are protected from extreme wind chills by the use of natural or man-made wind breaks and providing access to shade or other relief during periods of high heat index are important considerations for cattle housed outdoors. In addition, all fences, feed bunks, water troughs, and handling facilities should be designed and maintained so that cattle are not likely to injure themselves and so that the facilities can be used as they were intended. Everyone who works with cattle should understand and implement low-stress handling techniques to minimize the risk of cattle becoming injured or exhausted during handling. To implement low-stress handling, a ranch must have appropriate facilities and well-trained cowboys or animal handlers.

Providing cattle with proper diets, treating for internal parasites (worms) and external parasites (flies, lice, ticks, etc.), protecting the herd from avoidable contact with disease carriers, and using appropriate vaccines not only helps to protect the health and welfare of cattle, but supports high productivity of the herd. By concentrating on nutrition, sanitation, parasite control, biosecurity, and vaccination, ranchers can ensure that they are focusing their efforts to meet the health and welfare needs of their herd.

In addition to meeting cattle’s daily needs, every cattle producer must be prepared for potential challenges such as drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fire, blizzards, and other natural or man-made disasters. While most disasters cannot be avoided, those that are reasonable possibilities should be thought about ahead of time. Planning for ways to provide feed, water, and shelter to the herd as soon after a disaster as possible guarantees that animal welfare will be minimally compromised.

And finally, every cattle producer needs to have a plan for how he or she will deal with a severely injured or ill animal. Although providing an excellent environment with appropriate diets and a good herd health program will minimize the risk of disease and injury, all ranchers know that recognizing when an animal should be euthanized is critical to ensuring the humane care of their herd. Appropriate methods to euthanize (put to sleep) cattle have been recommended by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association. Every ranch should have at least one person who is trained to appropriately euthanize cattle or should have access to a veterinarian to perform this important function.

Time-tested principles of good cattle management are the keys to assuring the health and welfare of cattle herds. Increasingly, consumers are also interested in knowing that cattlemen are concerned about the welfare of their animals. It is becoming very important that you have a management plan that you can share with anyone who asks so that beef consumers can be assured that you also value the health and welfare of your herd.

Use of a BVD Management Tool: BVD CONSULT

Bob L. Larson, DVM, PhD
Beef Cattle Institute
Kansas State University

Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVD) infection is responsible for a variety of economically important disease syndromes in beef herds. The economic losses from BVD infection in cowherds will vary based on herd immunity and stage of gestation at the time pregnant cows are exposed to the virus, the virulence of the BVD strain, and other factors. The virus is known to suppress the immune system, contribute to the risk of pneumonia, and to cause pregnancy losses. Infection of the fetus with BVD virus during pregnancy can lead to abortion, birth defects, or the birth of persistently infected (PI) calves. Persistently infected cattle can result when susceptible pregnant cows are exposed to BVD virus during the first half of pregnancy. Many times infected fetuses are aborted, but if a PI fetus survives to term, it will always have a tremendous amount of the virus in its body and cannot mount an immune response to clear the virus. A PI animal will secrete BVD virus throughout its life; in contrast to animals that become infected after birth that secrete the virus and are contagious for only a few days to two weeks. These PI calves constitute the main source of BVD virus for spread within the herd and to other herds of cattle. Cattle persistently infected with BVD virus can be identified by a number of laboratory tests. Based on a recent USDA study, while only 8.8 percent of U.S. cow-calf ranches had one or more PI animals identified; this means that one in every 11 to 12 herds have PI calves and most ranchers with infected herds are not aware of the presence of PI calves.

Vaccination programs can provide fairly good protection against BVD-induced disease when the exposure is from non-PI animals that shed the virus for a short period of time. Vaccination programs offer some protection against BVD-induced disease when the exposure is from PI animals but this protection may be incomplete because of the tremendous amount of virus excreted by PI animals. Vaccination programs are an important component in BVD control, but will only offer a high level of protection if herd contact with PI animals is eliminated.

The cattle industry has made significant efforts in recent years to control BVD. Our current knowledge of the virus, the availability of effective vaccines, and the improvement in diagnostic tools have made the control of BVD feasible.

BVD CONSULT (Collaborative, Online, Novel, Science-based, User-friendly, Learning, Tool) is an internet-based tool, designed to aid in the development of BVD control programs for cow-calf herds. It is the result of efforts by scientists from several universities from around the country (Kansas State University, the University of Nebraska, Mississippi State University, and Auburn University) and was funded by an educational grant from Zoetis Animal Health and the USDA. BVD CONSULT effectively draws available BVD research into a user-friendly and organized format to develop BVD prevention and control programs for individual herds that emphasizes key management decisions that impact the success of these programs. 

BVD CONSULT provides veterinarians and cow-calf producers an opportunity to develop BVD prevention and control programs for any cow-calf herd. For herds that currently have PI cattle present, the tool will help to create a plan to identify and remove the PI cattle and to establish a strategy to reduce the likelihood of the herd becoming infected again. For herds that are currently BVD-free, BVD CONSULT can be used by a producer and the herd veterinarian to decide how to minimize the likelihood of BVD virus entering the herd and to reduce the impact if the herd is exposed.

BVD CONSULT is set up as a series of questions with responses and was designed to mimic a conversation between a veterinarian and a producer who is concerned about BVD.  The tool works through a decision tree in order to provide recommendations that are specific to individual operations. BVD CONSULT asks if the producer is willing and able to perform specific management practices that will aid in prevention or control and eradication of BVD.  More information is available in the tool to help with the decision making process.  After clicking on “yes” or “no” to each question, an appropriate response is given based on the choices that have been made, followed by another question. The questions that are asked, and the responses given, vary depending on the previous answers. There are 6 to 10 questions in total depending on the choices made. A printable report is available at the end of the tool which records the choices that were made and the responses that were given. The final result is a set of recommendations that the rancher and herd veterinarian have designed to meet the specific needs of a particular cow-calf herd. BVD CONSULT, as well as many other BVD management resources, can be found at www.BVDinfo.org.

Networking in the beef industry

Bob L. Larson, DVM, PhD

Although cattle producers often find that it is necessary to rely on themselves and to develop a wide variety of skills; successful cattle producers also know that it is important to identify others outside their operation who will provide benefit to their ranch. People who are trained to help and who have an economic incentive to ensure that your ranch thrives are ideal networking partners. The most likely networking partners are often located very close to your ranch, but can come from the wider region, other areas of the country, or occasionally from other parts of the world.

The Japanese word keiretsu is used to describe a business system where companies are linked in one or more ways due to serving the same geographic area, working with the same lender, having some cross-ownership,  or being related by blood or marriage – and that do a great deal of business with each other. In business schools, networks of large companies in manufacturing or technology are used as examples of keiretsu, but when I first heard this word – I immediately thought about my hometown and many similar situations in rural America. These types of networking relationships can occur from convenience or because cattle producers actively seek connections that are mutually beneficial to their ranching operation and to other businesses in their community.

Some potential networking partners for ranchers are suppliers such as veterinarians, lenders, feed suppliers, breeding companies, other ranches, and Extension personnel who can help improve production efficiency, cattle quality, or marketing. These partners may bring expertise and experience in areas such as range management, genetics, finance, nutrition, risk management, promotion, or cattle health. Cattle producers can also develop networking partnerships with their customers – including other cow-calf or purebred breeders, bull customers, feedlots, and even businesses closer to the end consumer such as local restaurants or beef supply chains.

Ranchers usually have choices of who will be their suppliers and where to sell their cattle or who to cultivate as customers. The ideal and most sustainable networking partnerships occur when both parties benefit; whether these relationships are between suppliers and the ranch or between the ranch and its customers. All these relationships require trust in order to be mutually beneficial. Trust is both a result and a cause of mutually beneficial networking partnerships in agriculture. Trust becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in that ranchers whose businesses are improved by a relationship and who trust the network partner to balance that business’s interests with the rancher’s interests over both the short-term and the long-term will fulfill their side of the arrangement to the best of their ability. The outcomes of a mutually beneficial relationship for the rancher may be improved financial position, greater convenience, increased safety, enhanced business or health risk management, or enriched pride of accomplishment; and the supplier or customer reaps similar benefits.

An important networking partner for ranchers is their veterinarian. In a good, mutually-beneficial relationship, a ranch’s veterinarian should provide valuable services and should be able to be trusted to have the rancher’s interests valued as highly as his/her own interests. Veterinarians have the potential to provide advice and services that improve reproductive efficiency and that reduce the risk of production losses due to disease. Reproductive efficiency is an important driver on the income side of a ranch’s business ledger; and veterinary services such as selecting and developing heifers to ensure that they calve early in their first calving season, breeding soundness examination of bulls and monitoring cow body condition prior to the breeding season to protect against poor breed-ups, and utilizing biosecurity and vaccinations to guard against abortion-causing diseases provide the opportunity for mutually beneficial transactions.  In addition, losses due to disease, injury, or poisonings can negatively affect a ranching business through disrupted cash-flow, harmed relationships with customers, increased labor and treatment costs, and added family and employee stress.  Local veterinarians are knowledgeable and available to help minimize these risks.

When looking at the local community and beyond for potential networking partners, cattle producers should consider a few key steps in order to establish long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. The first step is obtaining the information you need in order to know if the potential partner is a good fit. If the business is local, you may have first-hand experience that gives confidence that the potential partner has the skills, financing, and ethics that will lead to a beneficial relationship for your ranch. If you don’t have first-hand experience, you should find out if suppliers, employees, and customers trust the business to provide quality service, pay bills promptly, and act fairly. Once you have identified a potential networking partner, it may be best to begin with smaller transactions that limit your financial and reputation risk; and to use smaller interactions to clarify the skills needed and responsibilities expected from both parties. Assuming that the association between your ranch and the other business appears to be mutually beneficial at the start, as more interactions develop over time, candid communication about what is working well for each party and where expectations are not met will be essential to create a long-term successful relationship.

In the end, forming successful long-term networking partnerships that benefit your cattle operation may take more time initially compared to less-thoughtful methods of selecting suppliers and customers; and may require communication, compromise, and change to maintain the relationship. But in the long run, finding the right partnerships can bring enormous benefits to any ranching operation in terms of efficiency, profitability, growth, and value to its customers.

Designing a Trichomoniasis (Trich) control plan to meet the specific needs of your ranch using Trich CONSULT

Bob L. Larson, DVM, PhD

Trichomoniasis (Trich) is a highly contagious disease that can cause cows to abort an early pregnancy when the organism is passed from infected bulls to cows during mating. This disease is very important to the cattle industry because infected herds experience very severe losses – commonly up to a 30% to 50% reduction in the number of cows calving. Infected cows and bulls appear healthy and it’s not until a high percentage of the cows are open at preg-check that Trich is suspected. While cows are usually able to clear the infection within a few months, females are occasionally longer-term carriers; and once bulls become infected, they will most likely remain a carrier for the rest of their life.

Trich has been reported in almost every state in the U.S., but some areas of the country have a much higher risk of coming into contact with a Trich-infected breeding animal than others. The movement of Trich into a non-infected herd is through infected bulls or cows. Any time a lot of cattle are moving from one part of the country to another, such as during a drought situation, the risk of spreading Trich to areas that did not previously have a lot of cases, is very possible.

Many states have imposed regulations requiring testing for Trich for bulls moved into their states, and some states have testing requirements for bulls moving within the state, and a few states have regulations about the movement of open cows. Rules about which animals must be tested for Trich before being allowed to cross the border vary between states, therefore you must contact the state where you are shipping cattle to in order to meet those regulations. In addition, in many states Trich is a reportable disease, therefore if Trich is diagnosed in a herd, the state veterinarian must be notified who will then start an investigation and control procedure.

Even though Trich is a very important disease to the U.S. cattle industry, most herds are not infected and many herds have a fairly low risk of becoming infected. Therefore, a Trich-control plan for a non-infected herd would be very different than a plan for an infected herd. For non-infected herds, the goal is to set up a system where it’s unlikely that Trich will be introduced from other herds. If you have a herd that is Trich-infected, an aggressive plan to test the bulls and to carefully manage the breeding season must start immediately after diagnosis is confirmed.

Trich CONSULT was designed for the beef industry as a free, user-friendly, online tool that helps cow-calf producers and veterinarians to minimize the effects of Trich in a herd that has been infected, and it can be used to design a system to keep Trich out of uninfected herd. The plans that are developed are customized to each herd’s specific situation through a series of questions and responses that is designed to mimic a conversation with a Trich expert. I’m a firm believer that one-size-fits-all Trich plans will not work. It takes a knowledgeable veterinarian who knows not only trichomoniasis but also the ranchers they are working with and their community to design the best individualized control and surveillance plans. The question and answer format of Trich CONSULT helps the cattle producer and veterinarian to cover all the important considerations when designing an eradication or prevention program.

Trich CONSULT is set up to provide different answers and follow-up questions based on previous answers. There are 6 to 10 questions in Trich CONSULT which should take about 10 to 20 minutes to complete, depending on each individual producer’s answers.  If you want more information about a particular question or answer, you can click on a “More Information icon” and get helpful feedback to help you make a decision that best fits your herd and management.

The first question in Trich CONSULT is, “Do you have trichomoniasis (Trich) in your herd?  The follow-up questions will be very different depending on whether you answer “yes” or “no” to that initial question. If you are not sure about your infection status, you will be asked several questions to determine whether or not it is likely that you have Trich in your herd. If you already have Trich in your herd, you will be asked whether you can do certain testing and management actions to find and remove potentially infected bulls and cows. Many of the suggested actions are very strongly recommended, while others are preferred, but if you are willing to accept some risk of continued Trich exposure the tool will provide advice about how to minimize those risks and establish a strategy to quickly respond if your risky decision resulted in negative consequences.

If you do not currently have Trich in your herd and want to create a cost-effective strategy to maintain your Trich-free status, you will be asked if you can implement several different barriers to allowing an infected cow or bull to come into contact with your herd. Again, some actions are very strongly recommended while other actions are preferred in order to have the lowest risk of disease; but if you choose to continue some actions that have slight to moderate risk of allowing Trich into the herd, advice is provided in Trich CONSULT to manage your retained risk.

After you have completed all the questions in Trich CONSULT, a report will be generated that includes the answers to all the questions that you just completed and a summary of the strengths and limitations of your agreed-upon strategy.

Trich CONSULT is located at www.trichconsult.org  and was funded by the Kansas StateVeterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the Coleman Foundation for Food Animal Production Medicine at Kansas State University, and by USDA grant 2014-09684. The authors include veterinarians from Kansas State University, the University of Nebraska, Boehringer Ingleheim Vetmedica, Inc., the University of California at Davis, the University of Calgary, the University of Florida, and Auburn University.

Bull Management

Bob L. Larson, DVM, PhD

It is pretty obvious to state that bulls play a tremendously important role on cattle ranches. In the first place, obtaining a high percentage of cows pregnant in a controlled breeding season requires bulls that are fertile and have the ability and desire to mate cows and heifers that are in heat. It is also clear that the genetic makeup of a cowherd has a tremendous impact on profitability. In order to ensure that a bull is adding considerable value to the herd, he must fit within the herd’s genetic goals for low production costs and high demand for the offspring. The importance of the bull battery to the genetic profile of the herd is apparent when one remembers that this year’s bulls control 50% of the genes in the marketable product and that in commercial herds, greater than 90% of the genetic progress of a herd is via bull selection. Careful attention to selection based on predictions of genetic contribution to desirable traits, management to protect health, breeding soundness examination to remove bulls with questionable breeding ability, and appropriate bull-to-cow breeding ratios are required to optimize the investment ranchers make in their bulls.

According to a USDA survey, the two most common reasons that bulls are culled from commercial herds is because of infertility and physical unsoundness or injury. In order to address these risks, bulls should be thoroughly evaluated before each breeding season so that only bulls that are likely to be able to get a high percentage of exposed cows pregnant in a short period of time are turned out into the breeding pasture. The need for a thorough breeding soundness examination (BSE) is based on the fact that many prospective breeding bulls are infertile, subfertile, or unable to mount and breed successfully, and examination prior to the breeding season reduces the risk of breeding failure due to bull problems. The overall effect of BSEs is to eliminate many subfertile bulls and to improve the genetic base for fertility within the herd and breed. Although individual situations vary, national reports indicate that 10 to 20% of bulls will fail a thorough BSE (and another 10% that pass a BSE will perform poorly in the breeding pasture).

Because some bulls that have good quality semen and pass a physical examination still fail to successfully breed cows, it is necessary that bulls be observed closely during the breeding season. Because bulls that are not successfully mating have a tremendous negative impact on herd reproductive efficiency, every day (or nearly every day), producers should get bulls up and watch them walk and observe their underlines for indication of penis or prepuce problems in order identify lameness or injury that will prevent successful mating.

By using a thorough BSE to exclude questionable breeders before the breeding season starts and frequent observation during the breeding season to ensure successful mating ability, a relatively high cow to bull ratio can be used with the result that the number of offspring from superior sires is increased and the total bull-cost per calf weaned is decreased. The limited research that is available indicates that mature bulls with high reproductive capacity can be exposed to as many as 50 to 60 cycling cows in single-bull pastures (but fewer cows per bull in breeding pastures with multiple bulls). Young bulls should be exposed to fewer cows than mature bulls. For bulls less than three years of age, a commonly used rule of thumb is that a bull can successfully breed as many cows as his age in months (e.g. a 15 month old bull should be exposed to no more than 15 cows). The number of bulls required to adequately cover the breeding females is related to many factors. Environmental factors include: terrain, carrying capacity of the pasture, and pasture size. Bull factors include: age, condition, fertility, and social status. Social dominance of bulls is important to consider in multiple-sire breeding pastures. Several studies have shown that the most dominant one or two bulls in multi-sire pastures end up breeding a majority of the cows.

Although a high ratio of cows to bulls helps to reduce bull costs, it also exposes the herd to poor reproductive performance risk if the bulls fail to maintain good semen quality and quantity, or if bulls have reduced desire or ability to mate cows due to injury, illness, or low libido. Close observation of bulls during the breeding season is required in order to be assured that the bulls are getting cows bred. Injuries to bulls during the breeding season are relatively common. When a bull does become lame or incapable of breeding because of an injury to his reproductive tract, he needs to be removed from the breeding pasture and replaced by another bull.

Bulls need appropriate housing to provide protection during severely cold or hot weather – both of which can lead to temporary fertility problems. In addition, bulls should be maintained in good body condition throughout the year, becoming neither excessively thin nor fat. When developing bulls from weaning until they are turned out for their first breeding season, their diet should allow them to express full growth potential without becoming overly heavy. Restricting energy, protein, vitamins or minerals at any time between birth and maturity can delay the onset of puberty of young bulls and possibly reduce lifetime daily sperm output because of reduced testicular development early in life. Research has shown that bulls fed medium-energy diets from weaning to two years of age had greater reserves of sperm cells and higher quality semen than bulls developed on high-energy diets. In addition, young bulls grown at a rapid rate have a higher risk of bone and joint problems in their legs. This syndrome in bulls has also been described as leg weakness, degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, osteoarthrosis, and polyarthritis.

The two to three months leading up to the breeding season is an important period of time to ensure that bulls are in good shape to be “breeding athletes”. Exercise is important during the pre-breeding season period because during the breeding season the bull may travel several miles per day and maintain long periods of physical activity. If given ample area, bulls will usually exercise themselves. In designing bull facilities, it is a good idea to locate feeding and water areas as far apart as possible to encourage exercise. Bulls should have adequate body condition at the start of the breeding season so that weight loss during this period of high physical activity does not cause physiologic stress. At the same time, bulls should not be over-conditioned. If bulls are too fat, physical activity is reduced and excessive weight loss during the breeding season can occur. If bulls are in good body condition (BCS 5.0 to 5.5) then a forage-based diet with supplemental concentrate will be adequate to build the desired energy reserves. If the bulls are thin, then they may need substantially more concentrate feed.

Because bulls are so important for the genetic progress and reproductive efficiency of cattle herds; and because bulls account for a significant expense, excellent bull selection and care are critically important for optimum herd management. Bulls’ should be selected based on their ability to get a lot of cows pregnant early in the breeding season that will result in the birth of calves that will be high-value when they are sold. Once bulls’ are selected for the herd, they need to be fed to maintain good body condition and housed to protect them from injury risk. In addition, bull fertility and mating ability should be evaluated prior to each breeding season and monitored throughout breeding.

Role of your veterinarian in your business

Bob L. Larson, DVM, PhD
Beef Cattle Institute
Kansas State University

There are many people that impact the success of your ranching business, including your customers, your lenders, and your suppliers. One of the important suppliers for cow-calf producers is the local veterinarian. Veterinarians can provide important advice and service to improve ranch income, decrease costs, provide protection from losses due to disease, and offer options for marketing high-health cattle.

Ranch income is primarily derived from the sale of calves either at weaning for commercial operations or as breeding bulls or heifers for seedstock producers. Commercial ranchers can increase their income by increasing the pounds of calves at weaning and seedstock operations the number of marketable breeding animals from the same land and cow resources by increasing the reproductive efficiency of the herd. Veterinarians can provide advice and services to monitor and evaluate heifers, cows, and bulls so that a high percentage of the herd is able to successfully mate at the start of each breeding season.

Nutrition has an important impact on whether or not growing bulls and heifers reach puberty at an appropriate age and your veterinarian may be able to provide you with appropriate diets to meet targeted weight gain goals. Genetics also strongly influences whether developing bulls and heifers reach puberty by target ages, and your veterinarian is a valuable resource when considering selection and culling decisions. By doing breeding soundness examinations of bulls and heifers near yearling age, your veterinarian can help you identify the individuals that reach puberty at the time and with the amount of feed resources that you have identified to meet your ranch goals.

Doing breeding soundness examinations of mature bulls prior to the start of each breeding season allows your veterinarian to remove bulls that may fail during the breeding season due to foot or leg problems, other health problems, or reproductive tract problems. Although the reproductive tracts of mature cows are not routinely evaluated before the start of each breeding season, managing and monitoring the cows to confirm that a high percentage of the cows calve early enough in the calving season and in good enough body condition to resume fertile cycles by the start of the breeding season helps to ensure that herd reproductive efficiency will be high.

Monitoring body condition scores of the cow herd and rainfall amounts as predictors of future forage production potential allows your veterinarian to provide advice on a changing year-by-year basis to alter stocking density, timing of weaning, and supplementation strategies to ensure that cows enter the calving and breeding seasons in good body condition. The land base and herd size dictate much of the cost-side of cow-calf production and making sure that a high percentage of the cow herd becomes pregnant early in the breeding season allows those costs to be spread over a large number of marketable calves. By using body condition scores collected at several key points in the production cycle, your veterinarian can help you fine-tune the management of your herd based on the ranch forage-base, and the availability of cost-effective supplements or grazing alternatives, and the optimum cow size and milking ability for your herd. 

While every production year is expected to generate income from the sale of calves and to incur expenses associated with pasture and supplementation costs as well as cow depreciation and bull costs, significant losses due to disease is expected to be a rare event for cattle operations. Losses that are expected to occur rarely if at all but that could have a devastating impact on the financial status of a ranch if they did occur must be managed with cost-effective risk management strategies. Because disease losses do not occur every year, providing no defense may appear to be a sufficient and very low-cost management strategy in the short-run. However, over a longer time-frame, it would be very unusual for a herd with minimal disease protection to avoid devastating financial losses due to disease at some point in the future. Your veterinarian can provide valuable information about the likelihood that your herd could suffer losses from various diseases and the expected magnitude of those losses should your herd be exposed. By considering the likelihood of a disease, the magnitude of losses associated with that disease, and the effectiveness of available control strategies, your veterinarian can work with you to optimize the disease risk management of your ranching business.

Marketing of cattle, whether feeder calves or breeding animals, increasingly includes information about health status. When considering the optimum herd health program from a marketing standpoint, the risks that down-stream buyers face and their willingness to purchase from suppliers who can reduce that risk must be considered. For example, your herd may have very low risk for a disease and incurring expenses through diagnostic testing or herd certification may not reduce your herd’s already minimal risk; but the costs could easily be offset by customers willing to pay for that low disease risk. Increasingly, you must think of your down-stream customers as you work with your veterinarian to plan a health program that not only meets the needs of your herd but also provides a cost-effective marketing advantage.

A successful cattle business requires a combination of cattle and business expertise. Many successful ranchers count on a trusted team of advisors and suppliers to help them improve the profitability and sustainability of their ranching business. Finding and working with a local veterinarian who can provide assistance to increase income, control costs, and manage risks should be a goal of every cattle producer.