A Q&A With Dr. Bechtol: Protecting Profits Requires Big-picture Thinking

David Bechtol, DVM, owner of Palo Duro Consulting, Research & Feedlot, shares advice on managing bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

Blood: Dr. Bechtol, as the owner of a feedlot consulting business and research facility in Canyon, Texas, a big part of your work must involve advising producers on how to best manage BRD.

Q and A with your veterinarian

Bechtol: Certainly. I’m doing more research now, but have done feedlot consulting for many years. My research work has allowed me to be on the other side of the fence as well. BRD is a very complex and costly disease, and we expect a lot out of these cattle. There’s the cost of sick animals, the cost of death losses and, of course, treatment costs. But BRD also impacts performance: Sick animals that are treated may survive, but they don’t always perform as well as their penmates that were never sick. 

That’s why big-picture thinking is so important. You have to consider every aspect of BRD management, from vaccination and nutrition to minimizing stress on calves and choosing an effective antibiotic.

Whenever I go into a feedyard, like most veterinarians, I utilize checklists that I have developed for onsite evaluation. I check off items that have been followed and try to identify gaps that we can address.

Blood: So prevention is on your checklist.

Bechtol: Our main goal is prevention. If we can go back to the cow/calf producer and set up vaccination programs for respiratory diseases, then cattle will enter the feedyard with some immunity.

Blood: But that’s not always possible.

Bechtol: Many cattle come from small cow/calf operators, with herd sizes of 30 to 50 head. If these animals aren’t vaccinated against respiratory viruses, they enter the sale barns without immunity and that’s where the problem often starts. 

Blood: But in this business, commingling cattle is often unavoidable. 

Bechtol: Correct, but you have to realize there’s not a miracle option out there, there’s no cure-all. So you have to look at prevention and do the best with the animals you receive.

Blood: BRD is easier to manage when you have a true partnership between the producer and the veterinarian, don’t you think?

Bechtol: Absolutely. The biggest key to managing BRD? Solid communication. You have to be able to talk through all the issues. When I work with a producer, he needs to understand that we’re not going to achieve a 100% response on that initial treatment — but if we can get at least 75% to 80% efficiency, we have the right treatment program.

We may switch to a different product at different times of the year or for different types of cattle. That’s where communication comes in. Our goal is good efficacy in that initial treatment. But if that animal doesn’t respond the first time, you still want good efficacy with the second antibiotic, too.

Blood: How do you determine the treatment efficacy?

Bechtol: You need to have good records to evaluate your program and determine if you’re getting the response you should be.

That’s also part of what we do here at our research facility. We might evaluate the efficacy of one antibiotic against another for treating BRD in cattle. For example, we recently designed a pull-and-treat program to determine the efficacy of DRAXXIN® (tulathromycin) Injectable Solution versus Zuprevo® (tildipirosin) Injectable Solution for initial treatment of BRD.1

We had about 600 heifers and a really severe BRD model, so we actually had to remove a lot of cattle. But the mortality part of this study is when it really got interesting. Of the cattle treated with DRAXXIN, 15 died, while 31 died in the group treated with Zuprevo. So we saw a big difference in the mortality rate between those treatments. 

Blood: So this study focused on first treatment, rather than metaphylaxis?

Bechtol: Yes. If you have a good prevention program on incoming cattle, and a good cowboy crew, a lot of times you don’t need a metaphylactic treatment on all cattle. When the producer and veterinarian work as true partners, it’s easier to identify what’s necessary and what isn’t and make changes as needed.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: DRAXXIN has a pre-slaughter withdrawal time of 18 days in cattle. Do not use in female dairy cattle 20 months of age or older. Do not use in animals known to be hypersensitive to the product. See full Prescribing Information.

1 Data on file, Study Report No. 16CRGAIF-01-02, Zoetis Inc.

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