3 Steps to Stay Ahead of BRD Challenges

Bill Gallery, co-owner of Gallery Ranch in Oklahoma, shares how he successfully manages bovine respiratory disease (BRD) on his stocker operation.

Northeastern Oklahoma is home to some of the best native grass in the country. Locals call it “stocker cattle country,” which makes it the perfect home for Gallery Ranch near Dewey, Oklahoma.

“The native grass is probably as strong as anywhere. We have yet to find anywhere else that can compete with the gains we get here,” Gallery said. “In our location, we also sit between two of the largest sale barns in the country. We’re at the crossroads for a lot of light cattle from the southeast to Kansas and Nebraska.”

Gallery manages the operation with his brother Tom, and dad, Dan. Their location and operation, which receives cattle from across the country, requires managing and minimizing disease challenges daily, specifically BRD. Like many stocker operations, the ranch buys commingled sale barn cattle. When cattle get off the truck, Gallery Ranch often doesn’t know the distance they’ve traveled or their health histories.

“This is like putting a bunch of preschoolers together in daycare,” Gallery said. “There is a good chance some are going to get sick. There is no way around it.”

Despite this, three constants on the operation have significantly helped Gallery manage against disease challenges — and avoid major issues with BRD.

1. Follow and incorporate data.

“We are aggressive to find data and evaluate data,” Gallery said. “We can see what other people have experienced and see if that is something we can incorporate into what we do. BRD health challenges are unfortunately getting worse. It’s important to be in tune to what’s going on. You can’t get complacent in the stocker business.”

Gallery Ranch works closely with its consulting veterinarian out of Oklahoma City.

“He has a lot of feedyard exposure, so he sees a lot of numbers,” Gallery said. “He’s also well-connected in the industry, so he brings a lot to the table for us.”

Conducting contract research also has helped keep the ranch in the loop for what’s going on and what products might be working better year to year.

“We like to do one or two research trials per year,” Gallery said. “We’ll set protocols with our veterinarian and work with animal health company technical services veterinarians, so we can keep everything as fair as possible.”

2. Consistent on-arrival protocols.

“We have made sure we have the facilities and management to take care of and handle these high-risk commingled cattle,” Gallery said.

The operation has several grass traps, and each load of cattle they receive has its own trap and water. Cattle stay in their grass trap for about 30 to 40 days. Any sick cattle are pulled and treated and then go back to their original group after treatment. 

“We also BVD-PI [bovine viral diarrhea virus persistent infection] test all cattle on arrival,” Gallery said. “And we get the PIs out of the pen as soon as we get the phone call from the lab, which is at least within 48 hours, but usually within 24 hours. This has made a huge difference.”

He said they’ve seen how PIs can contribute to more wrecks — if PIs have been in a pen an extra day or if they compare a load of cattle that had PIs present to another load of cattle with no PIs. So, it’s crucial to get PIs out of the pens quickly.  

3. Manage strategically every day.

Longer-acting antibiotics have been one way for the ranch to cut down on handling and its impact because, as Gallery says, every time a steer needs to come up to the pens, that’s a day he’s probably not going to gain any weight.

“There is lost performance having to gather cattle and run them through the chute more often,” Gallery said. “There also is risk of injury to cattle or the labor involved with more frequent handling.”

It also saves the operation valuable time.

“The more expensive antibiotics are worth it,” Gallery said. “Not only is it going to be easier on the animal because you’re more likely to only have to give the antibiotic once, but it is easier on us because we don’t have to go get the animal again and give him another shot in three days. We squeak by on a skeletal crew, so anything we can do to save time, the better.”

Finally, Gallery keeps thorough records and studies them to help the ranch see how everything mentioned above is working — or not working. Gallery Ranch has been keeping records since the 1980s, and evaluates frequently — every couple weeks, or even more often if they get a feeling something isn’t working like it should.

“You can’t evaluate anything on just a gut feeling,” Gallery said. “With records, we can see the success rates on certain products.

You can crunch numbers to see what is worth it or what is cost-effective. We see the success of our BVD-PI testing. We can learn if we’re getting a few more pulls than we have been or if animals aren’t responding to treatment. We can look at the success rates of our antibiotics, yes, but it might also indicate something we need to look at in our vaccine program, too.”

Health challenges are ongoing and will always continue to be a moving target in this industry.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in what we do, and BRD is becoming costlier and more challenging all the time,” Gallery said. “Yes, it’s a challenge every day, but the intensity of the stocker business is what I enjoy most.”

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