How BRD Can Kill Your Profits Too

When you lose an animal to bovine respiratory disease (BRD), you lose more than just what you paid for that calf.

Treating BRD is expensive. Plain and simple. The average cost of a BRD antibiotic treatment is $23.60.1,* However, what can get even more expensive than treating BRD is not treating BRD effectively.

Death Losses

BRD is behind about 50%-70% of cattle deaths on feedlots each year.2 If we only consider the purchase price of the calf, assuming $900 per head, every 1% mortality would add a $9-per-head cost to your breakeven.

But when you lose an animal to BRD, you lose more than just what you paid for that calf. For every increase in mortality, there are additional increases to the breakeven for your operation. On top of the purchase price, you have to consider additional expenses prior to death, including treatment and re-treatment medications you purchased to try to help treat BRD, labor costs of pulling and re-treating that animal multiple times, feed costs and opportunity costs.  

Chronic Losses

BRD also is behind about 75% of cattle illnesses on feedlots each year.2 If any of those cattle don’t respond to treatment, these chronic animals can add up to be at least half of your mortality costs, but likely more. Chronic cattle experience permanent health damage and add costly long-term performance losses. Some research shows chronics can be costlier than deads when you consider cost of feed, yardage interest and opportunity cost.3,**

For example, one study published in 2013 found net return to be up to $30.37 per head for cattle never treated for BRD compared with -$45.52 per head for cattle receiving more than three treatments, or a difference of $75.89 per head.3 

Save More Money and Cattle

There isn’t a way to predict whether or not a load of cattle will be a wreck, but thanks to several recent studies, we know which antibiotics can help treat BRD more successfully. In fact, some antibiotics can result in almost doubling repeat BRD treatments4 as well as doubling mortalities and chronics5 on your operation due to poorer efficacy. As I shared above, if we only look at the purchase price of a calf, assuming $900 per head, this means that at a 1% mortality rate you would be doubling the $9-per-head cost to your breakeven. You would be adding at least an $18-per-head death loss expense using an antibiotic treatment that’s 50% less effective.

With your BRD treatment, you’re not only protecting your profits but also the life of your cattle. Starting with a more effective treatment can help you make fewer antibiotic treatment courses and decrease the significant impact deads and chronics have on your operation before it’s too late.

*According to U. S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service data from 2013.1
**In one study, net return was found to be up to $30.37/head for cattle with no BRD treatments, $17.79/head for cattle with one BRD treatment, $1.93/head for cattle with two BRD treatments and -$45.52 for cattle with ≥3 treatments/head.3

1 U. S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Types and Costs of Respiratory Disease Treatments in U.S. Feedlots. Published April 2013. Accessed March 29, 2018.
2 Brooks KR, Raper KC, Ward CE, Holland BP, Krehbiel, CR, Step DL. Economic Effects of Bovine Respiratory Disease on Feedlot Cattle During Backgrounding and Finishing Phases. Accessed April 24, 2018.
3 Cernicchiaro N, White BJ, Renter DG, Babcock AH. Evaluation of economic and performance outcomes associated with the number of treatments after an initial diagnosis of bovine respiratory disease in commercial feeder cattle. Am J Vet Res. 2013;74(2):300-309.
4 O’Connor AM, Yuan C, Cullen JN, Coetzee JK, da Silva N, Wang C. A mixed treatment meta-analysis of antibiotic treatment options for bovine respiratory disease — An update. Prev Vet Med. 2016;132:130-139.
5 Data on file, Study Report No. 16CRGAIF-01-02, Zoetis Inc.

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