Top 5 ways to prevent and manage calf scours

By Dr. Bob Larson, professor of production medicine

5. Identify sick calves as soon as possible so that you can remove them from contact with other calves and to treat them appropriately with fluids as directed by your veterinarian.

4. Make sure that cows calve in adequate body condition (Body Condition Score of 5 or 6) to ensure that each cow has a sufficient quantity of good quality colostrum.

3. Make sure that cows don’t congregate in one area of the pasture and create an extremely muddy environment for calves. Even if placed in a large pasture, cows will congregate near the feed and water and calves won’t spend time in the parts of the pasture that are clean. As much as possible, separate water sources and feed source and move bale rings frequently or unroll hay in a different part of the calving or nursery pasture each day so that cows and their calves spend time in the cleanest parts of the pasture.

2. Separate older calves from younger calves. Calves are at greatest risk for scours during the first three weeks of life and become fairly resistant by six to eight weeks of age. Even though older calves are not as likely to become sick with scours, they still shed a lot of the germs that cause scours and are a major source of germs to the susceptible young calves. Using several nursery pastures so that each pasture only contains calves of similar age greatly decreases the risk of calf scours.

1. Make every week like the first week of the calving season for as many cows as possible. The Sandhills Calving System recommends that enough calving pastures are available so that once a week all of the cows that calved that week are left in the pasture with their calves and all the cows that have not calved yet are moved to a new, clean pasture. In this system, calves born every week of the calving season are protected from exposed to older calves and are born on clean ground. Although starting new calving pastures each week is ideal, if you don’t have enough pastures to implement the full Sandhills System, starting new calving pastures by moving pregnant cows away from cow-calf pairs every two, or three, or even every four weeks will result in as many calves being born in the first week of their calving pasture as possible.

Vet Call: Cold-weather concerns

By Dr. Bob Larson, DVM, professor of production medicine
Reprinted with permission from the Angus Journal.

A high percentage of the U.S. beef herd resides in areas of the country where moderately to extremely cold winter temperatures are common. By planning for winter weather, ranchers can avoid being caught off-guard by extreme events and can manage the typical winter conditions so cattle do not have to continually utilize body fat as an energy source to keep warm, leading to excessive loss of body condition.

Situations that are most likely to cause cold stress are: Cattle with thin fat cover and short hair coats (due to movement from a warmer environment to a colder environment, or extremely cold temperatures early in the fall/winter season); cattle with wet hides, or high wind speed accompanying cold temperatures. Wind chill is a better predictor of cold stress than temperature alone because cold wind draws heat away more quickly than still air at the same temperature. Wet or mud-caked hair losses its ability to insulate the animal and a wet winter hair coat only provides as much protection from the cold as a typical summer hair coat. If cold wind is combined with a wet hair coat (as can occur during a winter storm), the effects can be very profound.

Adult cattle with a dry hair coat, adequate body condition, and abundant, adequate-quality forage can withstand most winter situations, especially if they have the ability to find protection from wind and have been exposed to moderately cold conditions for several weeks which allows them to acclimate by growing a thick winter hair coat and increasing feed intake. As temperatures drop, cattle increase heat production which means the number of calories they need for maintenance increases. This increase is met by consuming more feed and moving it through the digestive tract faster, but the cost of this faster movement is that feed is not digested as fully. The effect of needing increased calories for maintenance at the same time that feed digestibility is decreasing means that if cows do not have access to plenty of digestible feed, they will have to “burn” body fat as a calorie source.

Another factor that can limit feed intake in winter conditions is if water sources are frozen or unavailable. If feed intake cannot keep up with energy demands, and body fat is mobilized to meet energy demands, then the cows will have less fat insulation and will be more susceptible to cold temperatures, causing a viscous cycle that can lead to cold stress and even more weight loss.

Cold weather brings a special concern with bulls because of the potential to have frostbite damage to the scrotum and testicles. It is very important that bulls have protection from the wind and adequate bedding if they are housed on concrete or dirt.

Cold temperatures have the greatest potential to cause serious problems in young calves, particularly calves in the first day of life. Because calves are born wet, have thin skin and very little body fat, they lose body heat very rapidly and if they are not able to become dry, can quickly become severely cold stressed. Contact with snow or wet ground will increase the amount of time that a calf stays wet and in danger. Body temperature of newborn calves can drop to dangerously low levels in 3 hours or less.
Calves are born with a body temperature of about 100˚F. When exposed to a cold environment, calves are able to produce heat in two ways: shivering and the heat production of brown fat (fat that surrounds the kidneys of a new-born), and they can conserve heat by reducing blood flow to the body surface and extremities (feet, ears, etc.). In early stages of cold exposure, calves will shiver vigorously and have a fast heart rate and breathing rate. If that does not keep the body temperature up, the calf’s body sends less blood to feet, ears and nose in an effort to minimize heat loss. Severe cold stress occurs when the body temperature drops below 94˚F. At this temperature, the brain and other organs are affected and the calf becomes depressed, unable to rise, unwilling to suckle, and will temporarily lose the ability to shiver. The good news is that if the calf can be warmed up and its body temperature can begin to rise, the shivering response will return and the core body temperature will slowly increase.

During periods of cold or wet weather, newborn calves (less than 1 to 2 days of age) should be checked every few hours with a thermometer and any calf with a below-normal temperature, even if it appears OK, should be warmed. Calves suffering from cold stress must be warmed so that body temperature can rise above 100˚F. If body temperature has not dropped too far, putting the calf in the cab of a pickup out of the wind and rain or snow will warm the calf. In more severe cases the calves can be placed in warm water, specially designed warming boxes, or near a heat source such as an electric blanket, heat lamp, or hot water bottles. To avoid skin burns, the heat source should not exceed 108˚F. In addition to an external heat source, cold-stressed calves should be fed warm colostrum, milk, or electrolyte fluid with an energy source using an esophageal feeder.

Prevention of cold stress involves management to ensure that calves can be born in a short period of time and both the calf and dam can stand shortly after calving so that they can bond and the calf can begin suckling. Anything that prolongs calving or reduces the chance that a calf will suckle soon after birth should be addressed by management changes. Calving difficulties are minimized by proper heifer development, proper bull selection for calving ease, and proper nutrition so that heifers and cows calve in a body condition score of 5 to 6 on a 9-point scale. Cows with large teats or that are not attentive mothers should be culled.

Use of pasture as the primary forage source during calving encourages cows to keep spread apart and minimizes development of muddy areas. If the herd forage plan includes feeding hay, consider feeding hay in early to mid-gestation and saving stockpiled pasture for the calving season. If supplemental hay and grain are fed during calving, these should be provided at locations that are separate and distant from water sources and windbreaks. I discourage the use of bale rings in calving and nursery pastures and suggest that if using large round bales, they be unrolled and the feeding area changed with each feeding. Unrolled bales will have greater hay waste, but reduced chance for mud caused by concentrating the herd into small feeding areas, and unrolled hay provides bedding for newborn calves so that they are not in direct contact with the ground.

In addition to monitoring the weather forecast for severe winter weather events and to be alerted to times when additional feed is needed, minimizing the effects of cold temperatures on newborn calves involves planning ahead and considering calf comfort and protection when making heifer development, bull selection, nutrition and pasture-management decisions. Making sure that cows will have adequate access to forage and water even in situations with significant snow cover is necessary to provide sufficient calories to maintain body fat and heat production. Protecting the cow herd (and bulls) from winter wind and providing bedding if on concrete or mud/dirt will minimize the effects of severe weather.

Dr. Bob Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. He specializes in the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production. This column is reprinted and redistributed with permission from the Angus Journal.

VTPRK alumni join BCI for workshop

On January 17, the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University hosted 19 graduates of the Veterinary Training Program for Rural Kansas (VTPRK) in Manhattan. The conference represented the first reunion of VTPRK alumni, and focused on promoting success earlier in the veterinary career. The College of Veterinary Medicine alumni attended presentations by Dr. Brad White, director of the BCI; Dr. Bob Larson, professor of production medicine; Dr. Bob Weaber, professor of animal science and extension specialist; Dr. Dustin Pendell, associate professor of agricultural economics; and Dr. Tom Schwartz, director of the Veterinary Health Center.

Topics covered during the workshop included: Getting the most out of your career and life; adding value to your beef practice; cow herd reproductive services; and veterinary practice economics. The interactive sessions fostered discussion of improving veterinary clinic value, and improving relationships with clients and coworkers.

The day concluded with a reception inviting current K-State veterinary students to visit with VTPRK alumni.

The VTPRK program supports five students in each class enrolled in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (DVM) program at K-State in obtaining $20,000 annually as a loan to be used for educational expenses. Each veterinary student in the program can borrow up to $80,000 during the four years while completing his or her veterinary degree to be forgiven if the veterinarian practices in a qualifying rural Kansas community for four years following graduation. Preference is given to students who are Kansas residents and who are determined to practice in any county in Kansas with fewer than 35,000 residents.

VTPRK alumni in attendance:
Carson Abrams –– Cottonwood Animal Clinic, Arkansas City
Tera Barnhardt –– Cattle Empire LLC, Satanta
Caitlin Beall –– Central Veterinary Services, P.A., Stockton
Nicole Born –– Countryside Veterinary Clinic, Garnett
Curtis Concannon –– Atchison Animal Clinic, Atchison
Christopher Cox –– Spur Ridge Vet Hospital, Marion
Darla Dwyer –– Flyin’ 3 Veterinary Service, Eureka
Bruce Figger –– South Wind Animal Health, Stafford
David Hanks –– East Emporia Veterinary Clinic, Emporia
Adam Hatesohl –– Animal Health Center, Washington
Nick Henning –– Heartland Veterinary Center, Ness City
Adam Lukert –– St. Marys Veterinary Service, St. Marys
Jodi Pitts –– Santa Fe Trail Veterinary Clinic, LLC, Montezuma
Elyse Rottinghaus –– McPherson Vet Clinic, McPherson
Stacy Rugan –– Animal Clinic P.A., Frankfort
Corbyn Schroeder –– Cedar Ridge Veterinary Clinic, Atchison
Sara Strickland –– Red Oak Animal Hospital, Bucyrus
Amy Sunday –– Heartland Veterinary Health Center, Holton
Jessica Winter –– Hillsboro Animal Clinic, Hillsboro

Current students in attendance:
Matt Kelso –– Class of 2020
Lena Fernkopf –– Class of 2021
Colton Hull –– Class of 2022
Whitney Sloan –– Class of 2022
Natasha Vangundy –– Class of 2022
Shanlyn Hefley –– Class of 2020
Anna Hickert –– Class of 2020
William Patterson –– Class of 2022
Shaylee Flax –– Class of 2022
Jared Heiman –– Class of 2021


Sustainable Beef 101: Food service professionals

Recently, the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University (K-State) hosted 22 members from the Department of Housing and Dining Services’ food service management team to learn about beef sustainability.

The tour, “Sustainable Beef 101: Food service professionals,” was intended to teach non-biased beef sustainability information to non-commercial foodservice providers.

“With this information, the Beef Cattle Institute aims to develop long-lasting relationships within the foodservice industry so that there will be ongoing dialogue about beef sustainability which will occur both up and down the supply chain using current scientific information,” said Patti Dollarhide, BCI project director of beef value chain alliances.

Dr. Bob Weaber, professor of animal sciences and industry and extension specialist, discusses low-stress cattle handling techniques with tour participants.

Food service professionals are vital to the future of the beef industry. As a land-grant university, K-State has a unique opportunity to help educate its food service professionals on where the beef they serve comes from.

Tour participants first visited K-State’s Stanley Stout Center where they learned the differences in methods of raising and taste of grass-and-grain finished beef. Debbie Lyons-Blythe, owner of Blythe Angus Ranch and Blythe Family Farms in White City, Kansas, and Lee Borck, chairman of Innovative Livestock Services and Beef Marketing Group in Manhattan, Kansas, both members of the BCI’s advisory board, answered the group’s questions. The visitors interacted during a live demonstration of low-stress animal handling at the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry’s Purebred Unit. The tour wrapped up at the Intake Unit where Dr. Bob Weaber, professor of animal science and industry and extension specialist, discussed confined feeding operations. Tour participants were given the opportunity to make their own “cattle casserole,” using ingredients common in cattle feed rations.

During the BCI’s Sustainable Beef 101 tour for food service professionals, participants were able to make their own “cattle casserole” using ingredients used to make cattle feed rations.

Tour participants agreed K-State’s beef production specialists are passionate about both their cattle and their work. The participating food service professionals enjoyed taking photos throughout the day and sharing what they learned about beef sustainability.

The BCI hopes this experience will help K-State’s food service professionals be more knowledgeable when purchasing meat, and help their team be a source of information for campus consumers.

“Our professional management team was excited for the opportunity to learn more about the science and production practices surrounding the beef industry,” said Mary Molt, associate director of K-State Housing and Dining Services. “The continuous quest of ranchers, feeders, and researchers to produce the best quality of beef using the most sustainable practices was especially educational. The program has prepared us to answer questions about the beef we serve. The real-life experience of seeing beef production operations and hearing from so many professionals has given us the accurate information to respond with some authority to the misconceptions we sometimes hear.”

More tours will be planned in the future. For more information on these sustainable beef tours, contact Patti Dollarhide at 785-564-7461 or

10 resolutions for cattle producers in 2019

New year, new herd.
Well, maybe not entirely. But here are 10 resolutions to help keep your cattle and your operation in top condition all through 2019.
1: Increase oversight of bulls.
Conduct breeding soundness exams (BSEs) regularly and make sure your bulls are out there doing their job.
2: Keep better records.
Preferably on each individual animal. Not just production and reproduction, but economics and finances, too.
3: Implement a body condition score (BCS) collection system.
Set a target to evaluate and collect scores two to four times per year.
4: Shoot for fewer days of harvested-forage feeding.
Maximize your grazing days.
5: Troubleshoot handling facilities.
Headgate that hangs up? Fences that need mended? Identify your problem areas and get them fixed.
6: Give your facilities a walk through when you’re not working cattle.
Less stress for everyone.
7: Participate in CattleTrace.
Get involved.
8: Have a plan for calving season.
Include dystocia troubleshooting and have your facilities ready for 2019 calves.
9: Implement strategies.
Think grazing management, herd health and calving management.
10: Increase your expert network.
Establish and maintain relationships with industry experts. These might include veterinarians, economists, bankers, geneticists and many others.
This list was originally broadcast on the BCI CattleChat podcast. Listen to the episode here.

Vet Call: The role of the veterinarian in your business

By Dr. Bob Larson, DVM, professor of production medicine
Reprinted with permission from the Angus Journal.

Many people 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 are 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 businesses. 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.

Dr. Bob Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. He specializes in the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production. This column is reprinted and redistributed with permission from the Angus Journal.

Gordon Food Service Distributor Show: A growing appetite for product transparency

By Patti Dollarhide, R.D., director of beef value chain alliances

The food service industry, much like the cattle industry, is built on relationships. We develop a network of people we want to do business with, trade ideas with and eventually trust.

Recently at the Gordon Food Service (GFS) show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it was evident that the company’s food service customers are looking for suppliers they can trust, including those who provide beef.

GFS took a big step to demonstrate they value their customers and suppliers by providing an attempt at product transparency with a new program called “Clear Choice.”  Each of their vendors, including beef suppliers, were asked if the items they provide meet the criteria for one or all of six attributes. If their customer wants to find products that have one or more of these attributes, they can now locate them with a quick sort of the GFS product catalog.

Attributes and descriptions:

  • Cleaner Ingredients, meaning one, several or all of the following “no’s” are met:
    • No artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, thickeners or emulsifiers, color from artificial sources, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, trans fats or GMOs
  • Specialty Agriculture:
    • Certifications are in place for USDA Organic, Food Alliance or Biodynamic
  • Animal Care:
    • Certifications for one or more: American Humane Association, Animal Welfare Approved, Cage Free, Crate Free, Free Range, Global Animal Partnership, Grass Fed, Pasture Raised, Raised without Added Hormones, Raised without Antibiotics
  • Sustainable Seafood:
    • Certifications in place for one or more: Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Best Aquaculture Practices, Marine Stewardship Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
  • Ethically Sourced:
    • Third-party certifications in place: Fair Trade, International Farmer Direct Sourced, Rainforest Alliance
  • Environmentally Friendly:
    • Third-party certifications in place: Biodegradable Products Institute Compostable, Compostable and Biodegradable, EcoLogo, Green Seal, Made from Recycled Materials, Made from Renewable Resources, SaferChoice

Beef fits in five of those six “Clear Choice” boxes. (Sorry, we cannot make the grade for Sustainable Seafood!) No doubt, the descriptions of the GFS attributes will mature and continue to be reviewed.  Transparency is a journey we are on together. How timely it is for the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) to be working on six similar attributes, and put compliance targets in place to help our beef industry continue to improve. See more from USRSB here: Kudos to GFS for showcasing what their vendors are already doing, as well as setting targets for the future. Learn more about GFS’s Clear Choice program here:

Educational sessions were held in conjunction with the show. The BCI presented “What’s the ‘Beef’ about Beef, Health and Sustainability?” for healthcare, and college and university food service leaders as well as distributor salespeople. Participants noted they learned new information about the beef industry. Normally the message they receive is to reduce beef consumption. It was refreshing to have an engaged audience who learned something new as a result of the information.

Relationships –– what a pleasure to reconnect with industry food service professionals that I had worked with since 1995 and trust. This food business gets in your blood just like raising cattle. More than 20 years later, my colleagues are still asking their distribution partners to find quality products at a reasonable price, but now we also want to feel good about our purchases and what we choose to eat.

Food service customers are asking for more transparency. Beef producers know the answers. Let’s figure out how to translate them to the people who want to enjoy eating beef.


Clinical Update: Dedicate a new tank for hauling water

Plastic tanks used to haul fertilizer, non-protein nitrogen or similar substances are difficult, if not impossible, to clean out, Dr. Steve Ensley stressed.

No matter how well you clean it, a tank used to store or haul chemical shouldn’t be used to haul water to thirsty cattle.

Hot, dry summers often mean hauling water for cattlemen across the country. Whether the windmill quit or the pond went dry, it’s the time of year when producers roll out plastic tanks to ensure their cattle have access to water.

Every year, Dr. Steve Ensley, veterinary toxicologist with the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at Kansas State University, gets the same call: A producer hauled water, and now he’s got dead cattle. After a particularly devastating loss in western Kansas earlier this year, Dr. Ensley stressed the importance of delivering clean, chemical-free water to cattle.

Use a new tank
His bottom line? Use a brand new tank. Often, producers use the same polypropylene tank to haul water that is used for hauling fertilizer, herbicide or other farm-use chemicals.

“If those tanks have ever been used to haul fertilizer, non-protein nitrogen or similar substances, they’re difficult, if not impossible, to clean out,” he stressed. “You need to have a dedicated tank, and all you use it for is animal drinking water.”

Any fertilizer or herbicide chemicals can leach into the plastic fibers and can contaminate any water with which the tank is filled. There’s no way to scrub, steam or clean it out, Dr. Ensley said.

One of his latest cases involved a tank previously used for nitrogen and urea. After 18 hours without water, cattle drank excessively from the contaminated water, resulting in several deaths.

“It’s very common,” Dr. Ensley said. “I see it every year. It’s worth the investment to get a tank dedicated to only hauling water.”

Symptoms of toxicity
Nitrates cause an interference with an animal’s ability to oxygenate.

“You see varying degrees of oxygen deprivation from just ataxic or wobbly, to down cattle and serious respiratory issues,” he said.

Urea compounds cause hyper-ammonia issues. Dr. Ensley said the compounds can cause symptoms similar to grass tetany toxicity. Cattle may seem agitated or easily provoked, and can die within 30 minutes of ingesting water contaminated with urea compounds.

Hauling water to cattle in a tank previously used to store or haul herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers “is probably not a good idea.”

“If that’s the only source of water the animals have and it’s contaminated, it’s not a good idea,” Dr. Ensley said. “We want to try to provide them with the best quality water we can. Hauling water in a tank that’s been used for something else on the farm is just not a good idea. I continually see this and in most all cases, the animals lost would have purchased at least one new tank. It’s just not worth the risk.”

Contact the Lab
If you have questions or suspect chemical toxicity due to a contaminated water tank, call the K-State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at 785-532-5650 or toll free at 866-512-5650. Less urgent inquiries can be directed to Producers with animals requiring immediate services should contact their local veterinarian, or may call the Veterinary Health Center Emergency Desk at 785-532-4100. Visit the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab’s website at

Dr. Steve Ensley is a clinical veterinary toxicologist with the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (KSVDL) and College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Ensley’s interests are in clinical veterinary toxicology and applied toxicology research. Food animal veterinary toxicology is his passion.

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Vet Call: Nutritional aspects of cattle health

By Dr. Bob Larson, DVM
Reprinted with permission from the Angus Journal.

Meeting the nutritional needs of cattle is the foundation of a healthy herd. Nutritional needs differ between bulls, dry cows, lactating cows, growing replacement heifers and post-weaning calves, and the nutrient composition of forages change throughout the year. Because of the interaction between changing animal needs and changing forage conditions, herd managers must be informed and prepared to provide appropriate supplements when needed. In almost all situations when cattle have the opportunity to graze green growing forages that are high-quality and readily digestible, the only supplement needed is salt (and based on local soil and plant characteristics, possibly other minerals). However, even green growing grass has the potential to cause health problems if the concentration of the mineral magnesium is low in the lush leaves at the same time that cows grazing the forage have high magnesium requirements due to being in early lactation or late pregnancy.

While green growing forage is an excellent feed source for cattle, because of weather factors and growth characteristics of grass, for many weeks of the year cattle only have access to mature or dormant forage that has reduced quality and digestibility. Standing dormant forage and moderate-quality hay can meet most, if not all, energy and protein needs of cattle with relatively low nutritional demands, such as mature cows that are not lactating and bulls that are not active. If cattle are growing or lactating, dormant forage or hay may be deficient in energy and/or protein and these nutrients must be supplemented to avoid inadequate growth or even weight loss. The maturity and quality of forage when it is cut for hay as well as the conditions in which the hay dries before baling have tremendous impact on the nutrients present. Waiting to cut hay until the forage is very mature may increase the tonnage available, but the quality may be so low that either the cattle will not be provided needed nutrients or the needed supplementation drives up the total diet cost. Because growing replacement heifers, growing bulls and cows in late stages of pregnancy or early lactation have high nutrient needs, these classes of cattle require higher quality forages or more supplementation of poor-quality forage than adult, non-lactating cattle.

Because forages, and readily available energy and protein supplements vary greatly across North America, knowledge of local forages and feeds is essential when planning the most cost-efficient diets for cow herds. The types of predominant forage plants and the growth patterns of the different plants in diverse areas of the country greatly impact the quality of the diet for grazing cattle. Many forages and feeds have specific characteristics that affect not only the diet quality but can also cause potential negative effects. Knowledge and experience is needed to avoid health and production problems. Use of some supplemental feeds has to be limited due to adverse effects when fed at higher levels. For example, the high starch content of corn and other grains limits their use in forage-based diets; the potentially high levels of sulfur in corn gluten feed, distillers grain and some other by-product feeds requires that they be used in moderation; and gossypol in cottonseed meal can cause reduced fertility in bulls, which requires that this feed be fed for a limited time or in limited amounts in the weeks ahead of the breeding season.

Cattle that are not receiving adequate amounts of water, energy, protein, salt, and required vitamins and minerals can exhibit a wide range of problems that include poor growth, weight loss, failure to become pregnant, hair and skin lesions, bone and joint problems, and susceptibility to sicknesses such as pneumonia, scours and nervous system disease. Unless underlying nutritional problems are identified and corrected, use of vaccines, antibiotics and other interventions will not improve herd health. In many situations, outright disease is not detected, but nutrient deficiencies are negatively impacting body weight and fertility of the herd.

Fortunately, cattle will thrive on many different types of forages and feeds. The rumen has the ability to convert moderate- and even low-quality feeds into needed nutrients. Because cattle can eat a wide variety of feeds, locally available products that could not be easily shipped to other parts of the country or could not be used in other animal diets can serve as excellent cattle feeds. Knowledge of the nutrient needs of different classes of cattle as well as experience with local forages and feeds will allow cattle producers and their advisors to develop cost-effective diets that meet the needs of cattle to maintain good health and productivity.

Dr. Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. He specializes in the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production. This column is reprinted and redistributed with permission from the Angus Journal.

BCI Explains: What’s Cattle Chat?

By Shelby Mettlen, communications and marketing specialist

Because veterinarians and beef producers are often on the road, the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University has launched BCI Cattle Chat, a weekly podcast to provide current industry information to its on-the go audience.

Dr. Bob Larson, DVM and professor of production medicine; Dr. Brad White, DVM and director of the BCI; Dr. Dustin Pendell, professor of agricultural economics; and Dr. Bob Weaber, professor and beef extension specialist, make up the podcast team.

“A lot of valuable research takes place at K-State and other land-grant universities, and busy producers need convenient ways to receive information about the latest developments in beef production and marketing,” Dr. Larson said. “By having professors from animal science, agricultural economics and veterinary medicine addressing timely topics, and important management and marketing issues, producers receive more well-rounded answers that cross several disciplines.”

Short, conversational updates are recorded each Tuesday and distributed to iTunes, Google Play and Castbox the following Friday for download. Topics range from production and management tips, to updates on industry news and practice management.

“The goal is to allow us to share information in a new format that is accessible by those people who are busy and on the go,” Dr. White explained. “It benefits the industry by providing updates to producers who can transfer this information into actionable strategies to fit their operations and practices.”

BCI Cattle Chat is also an interactive tool, and the team has received and addressed questions from listeners across the country. Listeners can submit questions and suggested topics to

Podcast episodes can be downloaded directly to your mobile device or accessed from a desktop for easy listening on iTunes, Google Play and Castbox. More information on downloading the podcast can be found at

Drs. Brad White (left) and Bob Larson discuss managing cattle in extreme heat during a June recording.

Kansas Announces Cattle Trace Pilot Program for Disease Traceability

For more information:
Heather Lansdowne

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Governor Jeff Colyer and Secretary Jackie McClaskey joined leaders from the Kansas livestock industry on Saturday, June 30, at Barton County Feeders in Ellinwood to announce the Cattle Trace pilot project. Cattle Trace is a public-private partnership which will develop and test a purpose-built cattle disease traceability infrastructure in Kansas that will guide discussion and development of traceability on a national scale.

“Kansas is home to the finest beef producers and operations in the nation,” said Colyer. “We are proud that the Kansas beef industry has taken the lead in this important project that will enhance our ability to protect cattle health here and across the nation.”

Cattle disease traceability is an important component in the overall biosecurity of the U.S. beef cattle industry, playing a significant role in resuming and maintaining commerce in the event of a disease outbreak. The development of a viable end-to-end cattle disease traceability system is a top priority in the beef industry in Kansas and nationwide.

“KLA members have long recognized the importance of traceability for animal disease purposes to help protect their livelihoods and the industry,” said Kansas Livestock Association Chief Executive Officer Matt Teagarden. “We are excited to be part of this effort to move traceability forward for Kansas producers and ultimately the entire U.S. livestock sector.” KLA members amended policy in December 2017 to support mandatory cattle disease traceability for all ages of cattle. This policy shift provided momentum across Kansas to take action.

From end-to-end, each step of the beef cattle supply chain exists in Kansas, positioning the state well to test an expanded system capable of informing and guiding development of an enhanced traceability system on a national level.

“We have the opportunity to develop a cattle disease traceability system on our terms. The capabilities of Cattle Trace will enable us to do the right thing for animal health and biosecurity, and for the entire U.S. beef cattle industry,” said Brandon Depenbusch, vice president of cattle operations for Innovative Livestock Services, a member of the Cattle Trace steering committee. ILS will be one of at least ten feed yards that will participate in the pilot project in addition to livestock markets, cow-calf ranches and beef processors.

In early 2018, the Cattle Trace collaborators began working to develop a purpose-built infrastructure to track cattle movement through the supply chain. Cattle Trace will utilize ultra-high frequency technologies to collect the minimal data necessary, including an individual animal identification number, a GPS location, and date and time, in order to track animals in the event of a disease outbreak. Tag readers will be located at livestock markets, feed yards and beef processors. Movement data collection will begin in fall 2018, and the project will continue for approximately two years.

“We know for a traceability system to be effective, it needs to be simple, fast, and affordable to make its adoption within the industry as seamless as possible,” said Brad White, director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University. “We are working to build a system to test today and one that will serve the U.S. beef cattle industry in the future.”

Cattle Trace is a collaborative partnership between Kansas State University, the Kansas Livestock Association, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, USDA, and individual producer stakeholders. It is being jointly funded by public and private resources.

“The development of Cattle Trace is a direct result of proactive leaders in the Kansas beef industry recognizing an opportunity to develop a traceability system that works for producers,” said Secretary McClaskey. “We have seen tremendous leadership from industry partners ready to step up and take an active role on this critical issue.”

For more information about the Cattle Trace project, go to or contact the program coordinator, Cassie Kniebel, at or 785-564-7446.

This news release was prepared by Heather Lansdowne for the Kansas Department of Agriculture. For more information, contact 785-564-6707 or Photos by the Beef Cattle Institute.

Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer attended the event at Barton County Feeders near Ellinwood, Kansas, on Saturday, June 30.
“Kansas is home to the finest beef producers and operations in the nation,” said Colyer. “We are proud that the Kansas beef industry has taken the lead in this important project that will enhance our ability to protect cattle health here and across the nation.”

Veterinary graduate student selected as Seaboard American Royal scholar

By Gabriella Doebele, College of Veterinary Medicine student communications assistant

AshLee Lattner, Ph.D. student in veterinary biomedical studies, was selected as a 2018 Seaboard American Royal scholar. Lattner is one of 12 scholars selected from across the country.

AshLee Lattner is a Ph.D. student in veterinary biomedical sciences and a graduate student with the Beef Cattle Institute.

The Seaboard Royal Scholarship program is designed to provide opportunities for outstanding college students to advocate for leadership, the food and fiber industry, and the American Royal. Lattner will receive of a $2,500 scholarship award. Scholars will travel to Kansas City, Missouri, in September for the 119th American Royal to participate in tours, PRCA Rodeo and other American Royal events.

“I am incredibly humbled to receive this opportunity to advocate for an industry that has informed my personal development, education and career,” said Lattner. “Building on my agricultural economics and philosophy background, I am now studying beef industry sustainability in terms of system dynamics. More specifically, our team is exploring how production practices affect the interactions and tradeoffs between social, environmental and economic factors.”

Lattner is a graduate research assistant at the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI). She works under Dr. Brad White, director of the BCI, and Dr. Bob Larson, professor in clinical studies. Her research focuses on value generation and supply chain management with an emphasis on sustainability. Her studies seek to further understand beef production terms of land use, ethics, business and economics.

“My animal welfare project is aimed at facilitating information flow throughout supply chains,” Lattner explained. “The goal of my environmental economics project is to establish market-based, sustainable production incentives. This scholarship greatly enhances my ability to perform thorough and applicable research by helping me participate in these educational experiences and engage with appropriate stakeholders for our projects.”

Clinical Update: Managing blue-green algae

Toxins produced by blue-green algae in the presence of chemical runoff, rainfall and hot temperatures can be fatal to cattle. 

The incidence of blue-green algae blooms has been increasing in the last 20 years, said Dr. Steve Ensley, clinical veterinary toxicologist with Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Some evidence suggests the blooms are driven by nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from agricultural practices used on cropland, or chemical runoff from cities and industrial practices, but neither speculation is backed by enough evidence to determine a cause. The blooms may occur on ponds from June through as late as October, and resemble what Dr. Ensley describes as spilled paint. In the right conditions, usually driven by the presence of nitrogen, phosphorus and rainfall, blue-green algae can produce toxins, he explained.

Mostly likely spurred by nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, rainfall and hot temperatures, blue-green algae, naturally present in most pasture water sources, can enter a rapid growth phase and produce toxins that can cause organ damage and death in livestock and humans.

Most common in the Midwest and Kansas is the microcystin. When consumed, the toxin can cause damage to the liver.

An animal affected by the liver toxin may become lethargic, avoid eating and may die within 24-48 hours following exposure. The animal may go down and liver failure can occur. Another indication of liver toxin is yellowing of the eyes.

Anabaena, or anatoxin, is a neurotoxin produced by blue-green algae. “The neurotoxins they produce can be very potent,” Dr. Ensley pointed out. One form of that toxin, fast-death factor, can kill a human or animal in a matter of minutes following exposure.

“It’s fairly acute, and if they consume enough, they may die right around the pond, or not make it too far from the water source,” Dr. Ensley said.

If a producer suspects a blue-green algae bloom on a pond, contact the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (KSVDL), Dr. Ensley said. He instructs producers to collect a 500 milliliter sample in a plastic bottle on the downwind side of the water source where a bloom is suspected. Where the algae isn’t concentrated, there may not be enough toxin to detect an issue. The sample should be sent to the lab chilled.

Methods of control
To minimize the risk of blue-green algae toxicity, Dr. Ensley offered a few options. Solar aerators and dyes can help break up the blooms, but the implementation of buffer strips is the most widely used method of control throughout the Midwest. Buffer strips generally consist of grassland to minimize runoff from cropland to ponds.

He also pointed out that often, producers will suspect a blue-green algae bloom on the surface of tanks and waterers, but he said those generally won’t support algae growth. Wells are safe, too, due to limited sunlight.

“Waterers may look like they have moss on them,” Dr. Ensley explained. “They get dirty and the water may not look clean, but it’s rare to have an algae bloom in a water tank or water device.”

If a blue-green algae bloom is strongly suspected or confirmed, producers should move cattle off the pasture containing the affected water source to avoid organ damage and death loss. Contact the KSVDL at 785-532-5650, toll free at 1-866-512-5650, or at Producers with animals needing immediate services should contact their local veterinarian, or may call the Veterinary Health Center Emergency Desk at 785-532-4100. For more information on testing, visit

Dr. Steve Ensley is a clinical veterinary toxicologist with the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (KSVDL) and College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Ensley’s interests are in clinical veterinary toxicology and applied veterinary toxicology research. Food animal veterinary toxicology is his passion.

Vet Call: Health risk when purchasing cattle

By Dr. Bob Larson, DVM
Reprinted with permission from the Angus Journal.

One issue in the buying and selling of cattle that is often not considered until a problem arises is the health aspects of the transaction. While every business deal involves some risk, including health risk, the level of risk is not the same for every transaction and producers and their veterinarians have options to lessen the likelihood and/or extent of negative outcomes.

In general, the less health information that is available for a sale animal, the greater risk the purchaser is taking. In many situations, the seller does not possess specific information about the health of the cattle they are selling or the potential negative outcomes that may occur when the purchased cattle are introduced into the buyer’s herd. Because a number of negative health outcomes can follow the introduction of new cattle into a herd, the buyer needs to beware of taking greater risks than should be reasonably expected.

When purchasing cattle to introduce into an existing herd, some potential health risks include: injury during transport, the stress of transport and a new environment causing a purchased animal to break with disease leading to illness of the purchased animal or transfer of germs or parasites to the herd, the purchase of cattle that have not been exposed to the germs commonly found in the home herd leading to illness of the purchased animals, and purchasing an animal that is a persistent carrier for an infectious disease and exposing the home herd to an unfamiliar germ.

The risk of injury can be decreased though careful handling and good loading, unloading and transport equipment. Good design and maintenance as well as appropriate flooring and bedding in transport trailers. A transportation plan including considerations of length of travel, weather exposure during travel and skill of the driver to avoid excessive fatigue on the part of the cattle being moved are all considerations to reduce the risk of injury of purchased cattle.

Stressed cattle are more likely to become ill, and to shed germs and parasites that can be spread to other cattle. Even when healthy cattle are transported to a clean environment in safe transport trailers, some level of stress can be expected. This potential period of greater susceptibility to disease and greater risk of exposing other cattle to disease-causing germs is the reason veterinarians recommend cattle being added to a herd are separated (quarantined) from the current herd for a period of at least 30 days so the new cattle can become completely acclimated and can have recovered from the stress of being transported to a new environment.

Even though the purchasers of new cattle are often concerned about any germs or parasites the new cattle may bring into their current herd, an equally important risk is that newly purchased cattle may be exposed to unfamiliar germs present in the home herd –– causing the new cattle to become sick. This risk can be addressed by using a period of time after the original 30 days of complete separation from the current herd to allow limited contact of the new additions with a few cattle from the original herd. Older cows or animals that are being culled are often used for this purpose.

Finally, the risk that many veterinarians and producers consider first when protecting a herd from the risk of introducing new cattle is purchasing an apparently healthy animal that is a persistently infected carrier of a disease that is not currently a problem in the herd. There are a number of important diseases that can enter a herd by the purchase of a carrier animal. In my opinion, the diseases that fall in this category that deserve the greatest attention in many parts of the U.S. are trichomoniasis (trich) and bovine viral diarrhea (BVD). Other diseases that have persistent carriers and that may be of particular concern for some herds include: anaplasmosis, Johne’s, and bovine leukosis virus (BLV).

Because of the amount of loss that can occur and our current disease-control abilities, no herd should tolerate the import of cattle infected with trich or BVD. However, for some other diseases that have persistently infected carriers, it is not always wise to insist in imports being free of the disease-causing germs. For example, in some parts of the country where anaplasmosis is extremely common, it may be better to purchase cattle that have been exposed to the organism previously and are themselves carriers. In contrast, if you live in an area with very low anaplasmosis risk, you need to protect the home herd by purchasing cattle that are not carriers. For diseases such as Johne’s and BLV, many herds already have carrier animals, and insisting that purchased replacements be negative won’t make much impact on the current herd’s health status.

My advice is to have plans to keep any cattle potentially infected with trich or BVD out of a breeding herd and to know the status of your herd for any other infectious agents you may want to exclude. Work closely with your veterinarian to develop the best plan for your specific herd to manage the risks of brining in new cattle to your herd. In many situations, it is helpful for your veterinarian to talk to the supplier’s veterinarian so the health status of your herd and the source herd can be compared. You should have a quarantine time when you can watch herd additions closely for at least 30 days. If any of the purchased cattle show signs of illness during that 30-day period –– keep them quarantined longer so that a full 30 days passes after the last episode of illness until the new cattle are allow to have contact with your herd. At the end of the quarantine period, consider exposing the herd additions to older (possibly culls) cattle so that purchased cattle are exposed to the home-herd’s germs and parasites while you can still watch them closely.

Purchasing herd additions that meet the genetic and marketing goals for your ranch is an important part of ranch management. Managing herd additions to limit the health risks involved is an often overlooked consideration in the transaction.

Dr. Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. His area of specialization is the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production. This column is reprinted and redistributed with permission from the Angus Journal.

Students join BCI for industry education

By Shelby Mettlen, communications and marketing specialist

Beginning May 14, 10 incoming first- and second-year veterinary students joined the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University for two weeks of beef industry-related tours, presentations and hands-on demonstrations.

Students Braxton Butler, Izabella Carmona, Lena Fernkopf, Jared Heiman, Ashley Joseph, Megan Westerhold, Meredith Schmidt, Matthew Kelso, Libby Farney and Shanlyn Hefley are part of the Veterinary Training Program for Rural Kansas (VTPRK), a state-funded effort provided through the College of Veterinary Medicine to return veterinary graduates to rural Kansas to serve counties of fewer than 35,000 residents. The program provides up to $20,000 per year toward academic and professional development to each of five students per class over the course of four years. Graduates of the VTPRK program are required to practice veterinary medicine in a qualifying county for four years following graduation.

During the first week, the students, BCI Director Dr. Brad White and Kelly Oliver, program coordinator, toured a number of beef industry businesses across western Kansas. Starting at National Beef in Dodge City, the group moved to Forget-Me-Not Farms dairy in Cimarron, Cattle Empire in Satanta, Hy-Plains Feedyard in Montezuma, and finished up at Gardiner Angus Ranch and Ashland Veterinary Clinic in Ashland.

“The goal of hosting these students is to prepare our VTPRK students for success in rural practice,” said Dr. White. “BCI works closely with several industries involved in rural practices and we want to work with students to help them gain early experience.”

The following week, the students returned to Manhattan for five days of presentations by industry leaders, tours and cattle-handling demonstrations. The group traveled to St. Joseph, Missouri, May 24 to tour Boehringer Ingelheim and wrapped up the course with Animal Health Commissioner Dr. Justin Smith and Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator David Hogg at the Kansas Department of Agriculture building in Manhattan.

Lena Fernkopf, Circleville, Kansas, enjoyed the diversity of the tours and presentations.

“It was nice to be able to see all aspects of the cattle industry, from feedlot, to dairy, and everything in between,” she said. “I also really enjoyed getting to visit with veterinarians and learn more about what they do on a daily basis and learn more about a career in veterinary medicine in western Kansas. Overall, I think the tours and presentations offered us an opportunity to see many aspects of the industry that many students will not get to see.”

The students were recognized during the college’s 80th Annual Conference for Veterinarians in Manhattan, Kansas, on June 3.

BCI hosts Canadian livestock traceability expert

By Shelby Mettlen, communications  and marketing specialist

The Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University hosted Anne Brunet-Burgess, general manager of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA), at the Innovation Center at K-State’s Research Park on May 17. Her presentation coincided with a discussion on livestock traceability in the United States among the BCI, Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Department of Agriculture and private industry stakeholders.

The CCIA provides oversight for the Canadian Cattle Identification Program, Canada’s industry-initiated and -established trace-back system designed for the containment and eradication of animal disease. The program is led by a board of directors representing livestock producers, auction markets, livestock dealers, feedlots, veterinarians and processors.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requires all regulated species –– beef and dairy cattle, bison, sheep, and goats –– to have RFID indicators.

“The intent is all about health,” Brunet-Burgess said, “At the end of the day, our mandate is to have that information in the event of a disease outbreak.”

“We appreciated the opportunity to have Ms. Brunet-Burgess join us in Manhattan for a discussion on Canada’s implementation of a disease traceability system,” said Cassie Kniebel, BCI program manager. “As we (beef industry stakeholders) evaluate the potential infrastructure for a system in Kansas and across the country, understanding current systems and their role in resuming and maintaining commerce in the event of a disease outbreak is important.”

While the concept of traceability is not new, Dr. Brad White, BCI director, noted a mindset shift in recent years.

“Historically, concerns about technology, privacy and economic costs have challenged the development of a cattle disease traceability system,” he said. “Today, industry stakeholders recognize the need for a viable end-to-end cattle disease traceability system which provides critical tools to manage a disease outbreak and may provide opportunities to add value to the industry.”

Vet Call: The role of research in the future of beef production

By Dr. Bob Larson, DVM
Reprinted with permission from the Angus Journal.

Known cattle production efficiency and health problems, new challenges and opportunities, changing economic and societal situations, and human curiosity all drive the need for beef cattle research. Recognizing the need for research means that cattle producers, scientists, and many other stake-holders agree that there are opportunities to improve diverse areas of cattle health and well-being, production, and economics. From a veterinary perspective, investigations of management, genetic selection, and technology interventions to increase reproductive efficiency, improve forage utilization, increase disease avoidance, and enhance disease treatment effectiveness are exciting areas of research. Because of ongoing research, veterinarians and beef cattle producers can look forward to having more information and new tools to improve cattle health and well-being, production efficiency, and long-term sustainability.

Careful and accurate observation of cattle and their environments plays an essential role in scientific research, but observation alone will not lead to new understanding about how to improve cattle production. Research combines careful observation with specific strategies to account for the natural variation that occurs when different individual cattle are treated identically, and with methods to limit unintended biases from interfering with a true interpretation of how cattle behave and respond to different environments and treatments.

The reason that cattle research must be carefully planned is that cattle health and well-being and production efficiency are influenced by a complex interaction of many biologic and economic factors. The biologic factors include: cattle genetics, forage quality and availability, the presence and types of different disease risks, the varying impact of temperature, humidity, and other environmental features on different cattle, how cattle respond to the stresses they encounter, and many other factors. Observations of relatively few animals or observations taken over a short period of time often fail to allow a person to accurately understand the many factors that interact to cause an outcome.

Because of these challenges, even very well-planned research projects can only answer one or two fairly limited questions at a time. But a long-term approach to solving the important questions facing cattle veterinarians and producers through a series of studies carried out on a variety of cattle types, ages, and environments, slowly allows researchers to build an understanding of the interacting factors that can be managed to improve cattle production.

Some of the interesting areas being researched now include: investigations into the role that genetics plays on which cattle are most likely to be resistant to various diseases, research comparing the ability of diagnostic tests to more accurately identify cattle that can spread disease to other animals, and comparisons between different methods of preventing or treating diseases that commonly affect cattle. In addition, there are very interesting investigations that ask if managing cattle in certain ways will enhance their ability to graze and utilize available forages, other studies concerned with finding how cattle best utilize different types of feeds, and studies that investigate how nutrition at one stage of life affect other stages of life (even years later). There are also exciting areas of research to improve reproductive efficiency of cattle by investigating more accurate ways to sort bulls into high- and low-reproductively sound classifications, to enhance the fertility of cows, and to reduce the risk of abortion in pregnant cows. Many studies are looking for ways to utilize new technologies such as computers, genetic testing, GPS tracking, and miniature robots to improve cattle production. Other areas of study include investigations of cattle behavior, grazing patterns, rumen function, growth efficiency, response to vaccinations, and resistance to disease based on time-tested production methods.

Regardless of the area being studied, research is a slow, step-by-step process with very few leaps in new knowledge. But the results of multiple well-planned research studies evaluated over time and across different production situations gradually adds to our understanding of the factors that impact cattle health and well-being and production efficiency. Current cattle producers and veterinarians benefit from many decades of research that has provided valuable strategies and tools that are used daily. The research that is being conducted today will provide additional breakthroughs in the coming years.

Dr. Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. His area of specialization is the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production. This column is reprinted and redistributed with permission from the Angus Journal

BCI Explains: Pregnancy Analytics

By Shelby Mettlen, communications and marketing specialist

“Reproduction is critical to cow-calf profitability,” says Dr. Bob Larson, professor of production medicine and associate with the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University (K-State). “It’s what really drives our clients’ profitability. When we look at veterinary practices, pregnancy checking is usually the No. 1 income generator for bovine veterinary practices.”
The BCI’s Pregnancy Analytics platform, including both the app and the soon-to-come desktop-friendly dashboard, offers what veterinarians and cattle producers want to see first: An assessment of the herd’s reproductive success.

The app

The beauty of the BCI’s Pregnancy Analytics app is chute-side data, Larson says. The app creates customized charts with information including the number of cows that became pregnant within the first 21 days of the breeding season based on age, body condition score (BCS) and a custom category determined by the client. It’s all available as soon as the sleeve comes off.

“It tells you who and when cows did not become pregnant,” Larson says. “It gives me more information than simply “twelve percent of my cows didn’t get pregnant. Now I know when cows didn’t get pregnant, and I know which cows, when, didn’t get pregnant.”

Enriching the practice

The Pregnancy Analytics platform gives veterinarians a way to add value to pregnancy diagnosis, he says. “Identifying open cows has value, but using the additional information provided by the platform is information you can use to both problem solve and plan for the future.”
“I can look at the app and easily determine that, ‘Oh, [my cows] didn’t breed well in the last two weeks of June. That guides me to ask ‘What happened in the last two weeks of June?’ This type of information helps to ask better questions and to provide better answers.”
The platform assists the veterinarian, the producer and the university. The veterinarian is better able to serve his clients, the producer has a tool to improve herd fertility, and BCI receives useful data for creating benchmarks and evaluating a wide variety of herds.
That is, if you share your data. Veterinarians can opt out of sharing their data with BCI and the app will maintain complete functionality, except for the ability to compare to benchmarks.

Real-world data

“If you don’t share your data, you don’t get the benchmarks,” Larson points out. BCI uses the data collected from ranches and veterinarians using the app to create benchmarks that compare the current herd to herds in the top one-third. “We think that comparing to the top one-third of herds provides a better goal than comparing to the average herd,” he says.
The Pregnancy Analytics app has garnered thousands of downloads and serves hundreds of active users across Kansas. It’s available for use on both Android and Apple devices through Google Play and the App Store. For more information on our mobile apps, click here.

Dr. Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. His area of specialization is the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production.

K-State’s Cattlemen’s Day helps producers look forward

By K-State Research and Extension

Nearly 800 gather for 105th annual event

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Nearly 800 cattle producers and beef industry supporters from Kansas and surrounding states were on hand for the 105th annual Cattlemen’s Day at Kansas State University on March 2.

K-State agricultural economist Glynn Tonsor and newly-confirmed U.S. Chief Agricultural Negotiator Gregg Doud highlighted the event’s general session, outlining many of the key factors that affect trade in agriculture and other industries around the world.

Doud, a native Kansan and K-State graduate whose appointment as chief agricultural negotiator was finalized just one day earlier, gave a talk based on years of experience in international trade, most recently as president of the Commodity Markets Council.

Tonsor is widely recognized for his work in tracking the economic outlook in the beef industry. During the session, he helped paint the picture of the importance of international trade as U.S. producers expand the beef herd.

“We got a good feel for the potential going forward for beef and all proteins, not only domestically, but in the export markets,” said Matt Teagarden, the chief executive officer for the Kansas Livestock Association, who attended the session.

“I think as you look at some of those supply projections, not only for beef but also the other proteins, it drives home the importance of working with consumers not only in the states, but also around the world to make sure we’ve got a market for those coming supplies,” Teagarden said.

Read the full release here.

BCI co-hosts Cow-Calf Conference

By Shelby Mettlen, communications and marketing specialist

The Beef Cattle Institute and College of Veterinary Medicine partner for annual conference.

The Kansas State University (K-State) College of Veterinary Medicine, together with the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) hosted the college’s annual Cow-Calf Conference Feb. 16, 2018, at the University’s Stanley Stout Center in Manhattan, Kansas. Faculty and staff from the BCI, College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Agriculture, and K-State Research and Extension covered topics on using information technology to enhance veterinary services to cow-calf herds.

The program welcomed students and veterinarians to its conference with information varying from how to use websites like the Department of Agricultural Economics’ to updates on the BCI’s emerging dashboards.

Presenters included:
Dr. Bob Weaber, professor and beef extension specialist, animal sciences and industry
Dr. A.J. Tarpoff, professor and extension beef veterinarian, animal sciences and industry
Dr. Gregg Hanzlicek, assistant professor, Veterinary Diagnostic Lab
Dr. Dustin Pendell, associate professor, agricultural economics
Dr. Glynn Tonsor, professor, agricultural economics
Dr. Brad White, director, BCI
Dr. Bob Larson, professor of production medicine, clinical sciences
Dr. David Amrine, research director, BCI
Dr. Sandy Johnson, extension specialist and professor, animal sciences and industry
Patti Dollarhide, director of value chain alliances, BCI
Dr. Carl Meyer, DVM, Oskaloosa Animal Clinic
Steve Johnson, computer systems manager/analyst, University of Nebraska Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center

“This conference was a good opportunity to discuss how veterinary practitioners are using a variety of tools to help make decisions with their clients,” said Dr. Brad White, director. “The Beef Cattle Institute is focused on created solutions that lead to actionable information for producers and veterinarians.”

The conference is intended to provide resources to veterinarians who need trusted information regarding cattle health, reproduction, synchronization protocols, bull selection and expected progeny differences (EPDs), writing veterinary feed directives (VFDs), market forces and other important aspects of livestock production.

“Beef producers look to their veterinarian for information about cattle health, reproduction, nutrition and other aspects of operating sustainable livestock operations,” said Dr. Bob Larson, professor. “This conference helped veterinarians identify valuable online resources available from K-State that can assist them as they address their clients’ needs. The Beef Cattle Institute, the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, the Department of Agricultural Economics, and K-State Extension all provide useful websites, downloadable smart phone apps, management decision calculators, and up-to-date information from research performed at land grant universities across the country. The ability to access and utilize these resources when making recommendations or guiding decisions at the herd level increases the value that veterinarians provide for their clients.”

Topics and resources:

Beef Cattle Institute
Pregnancy Analytics app and VFD app
Animal Care Training/AABP and AVC continuing education

K-State Research & Extension
K-State Research and Extension Beef website
Management Minder, Estrus Synchronization Planner, AI Cowculator

College of Veterinary Medicine
KSVDL website and app and
CONSULT programs

Department of Agricultural Economics
Cow Calf 5 (Great Plains Veterinary Education Center)