How to Determine if Your BRD Treatment Is Cost-effective

Beyond the price on the bottle, there are at least four more things you need to factor into the price of your antibiotic to determine the real cost of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) treatment.

When a veterinarian recommends you need an antibiotic to help treat BRD, the price on the bottle is an important part of the discussion. But there are a few more things you must evaluate to determine the cost per dose and if the product is cost-effective for your operation.

1. How often the treatment works the first time

When an antibiotic works better on the first injection, and works for a longer period of time, this can help reduce the number of doses you need to use, buy and administer overall. Fewer re-treatments also are better for your cattle.

You can’t predict a BRD outbreak, but you can predict the likelihood of several injectable antibiotics to deliver first-treatment success, according to 2016 meta-analysis research. Some antibiotics were found to be only half as effective as other options for treating BRD the first time.1,*

When you add in the expense of more pulls, a BRD treatment that’s more effective — even if it costs more — could cost you less. Antibiotics make up less than half the approximate cost per BRD treatment, a cost gap that widens with each re-treatment.

Estimated cost of first pull = $52

(average cost of medication at $23.602,** + labor costs at an hourly wage of $153,*** + performance losses of one treatment at $23.13/head4,****)

Estimated cost of second pull = $59

(average cost of medication at $23.602,** + labor costs at an hourly wage of $153,*** + performance losses of two treatments at $30.15/head4,****)

2. Your death rates

For every increase in mortality, there are additional increases to the breakeven for your operation. There is research that demonstrates the mortality rates of different antibiotic treatments. One antibiotic was shown to cut mortalities — and related expenses — nearly in half compared with another treatment option.5

When you lose an animal to BRD, factor in that you’re also losing more than the purchase price of the calf.

Estimated cost of deads = loss of purchase price paid for feeder calf plus cost of medication and labor

(weight of cattle × price per pound at purchase + average cost of medication at $23.602,** + labor costs at an hourly wage of $153,*** + performance losses of one treatment at $23.13/head4,****)

For a more precise calculation, also consider the price per pound at death (opportunity losses) and the expense of feed prior to death.

3. Cattle that never respond to treatment

If cattle don’t respond to treatment, these chronic animals can add up to be at least half of your mortality costs, but likely more.6

An antibiotic with a better treatment response, regardless of price, can lead to fewer costly chronic cattle.

Estimated cost of chronics = half the cost of a dead

(weight of cattle × price per pound at purchase + average cost of medicine at $23.602,** + labor costs at an hourly wage of $153,*** + performance losses of two treatments at $30.15/head4,**** ÷ 2)

4. Performance losses for pulled cattle

Treating BRD with an antibiotic that’s demonstrated to be more effective can help cattle return to feed faster. Research has shown that properly treated cattle will rebound and make gains that minimize the impact of BRD.6

When you re-treat cattle, estimated performance loss costs increase with each re-treatment.

Estimated performance losses of one treatment = $23.23/head4,****

Estimated performance losses of two treatments = $30.15/head4,****

When it comes to BRD, there’s a lot that can add up. You can estimate these extra costs manually — or you can try this BRD cost calculator. Input information about your operation and how many first pulls, second pulls, deaths and chronics you have. Try taking away a few extra first and second pulls, deaths and chronics — the result of a more effective BRD antibiotic treatment — and see how much of a difference this can make on treatment costs.

For more ways that ineffective BRD treatment can cost you extra, check out my article in this issue of Progressive Cattle magazine.

In this video, see how choosing a more effective antibiotic program arms you with the right combination of knowledge, tools and proven products you need to better navigate BRD with fewer costs along the way.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR DRAXXIN: 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.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR EXCEDE: People with known hypersensitivity to penicillin or cephalosporins should avoid exposure to EXCEDE. EXCEDE is contraindicated in animals with known allergy to ceftiofur or to the ß-lactam group (penicillins and cephalosporins) of antimicrobials. Inadvertent intra-arterial injection is possible and fatal. Do not use in calves to be processed for veal. Pre-slaughter withdrawal time is 13 days following the last dose. See full Prescribing Information.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR ADVOCIN: Extra-label use of ADVOCIN in food-producing animals is prohibited. Do not use in cattle intended for dairy production or in calves to be processed for veal. ADVOCIN has a pre-slaughter withdrawal time of four days. See full Prescribing Information.

* Not based on clinical outcomes
** Data from 2011 found the average cost of treatment for a single case of respiratory disease was $23.60
*** Labor costs = $5/pull (The average hourly wage of $15 for feedlot managers in 2013 and assuming approximately 20 min./pull)
**** Performance losses from BRD = carcass value relative to cattle with no BRD4 (Performance is compromised when BRD occurs early in the feeding period, but cattle properly treated cattle will rebound and make compensatory gains that minimize the impact. This does not mean the effects of BRD are neutralized, because cattle that were never diagnosed with BRD had heavier carcasses and more muscle.)


1 O’Connor AM, Yuan C, Cullen JN, Coetzee JF, 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.
2 USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Types and Costs of Respiratory Disease Treatments in U.S. Feedlots. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/nahms/feedlot/downloads/feedlot2011/Feed11_is_RespDis.pdf. Published April 2013. Accessed July 16, 2019.
3 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. 2010 Nebraska Feedyard Labor Cost Benchmarks and Historical Trends. http://agecon.unl.edu/a9d868a8-c610-4d9a-85d7-5a8e3bd6f5bb.pdf. Published December 2010. Accessed September 21, 2019. 
4 Schneider MJ, Tait RG Jr, Busby WD, Reecy JM. An evaluation of bovine respiratory disease complex in feedlot cattle: Impact on performance and carcass traits using treatment records and lung lesion scores. J Anim Sci. 2009;87(5):1821-1827.
5 Data on file, Study Report No. 16CRGAIF-01-02, Zoetis Inc.
6 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.

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