Breaking the Bank: Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD)

It is widely accepted that BRD is the most costly disease complex in cattle production. Manpower, treatment costs, veterinary expenses, diminished performance, reduced carcass value, and death loss can take a significant toll on an operation’s close-outs.

The following information about the economics of BRD is taken from a study conducted by Iowa State University. It was reported in the Journal of Animal Science and summarized in Drovers (May 2009).

Researchers tracked almost 6,000 cattle fed in ten feedlots over four years, with the cattle originating from across the Midwest and Southeast. They observed BRD in 8.2 percent of all cattle and found evidence of lung lesions in nearly 62 percent of a subsample of 1,665 carcasses.

  • Cattle treated for BRD gained an average of 0.81 pounds per day less than non-treated cattle during the four- to six-week starting period and 0.15 pounds per day less, averaged across the full feeding period.
  • At slaughter, treated cattle averaged 24 pounds lighter than non-treated cattle.
  • Treated cattle had not only lighter carcass weights but also smaller ribeye areas, less fat cover and less marbling.
  • Compared to non-treated cattle, carcass value was $23.23 per head lower for those treated once, $30.15 for those treated twice, and $54.01 for those treated three or more times.

No one would question that BRD is expensive. But what is interesting in this report is that only 8.2 percent of cattle in the study had observable signs and were treated for BRD. However, at harvest 62 percent of cattle in a subsample had evidence of lung lesions.

The implications are that BRD is pervasive, and it is often overlooked because cattle are skilled at masking their condition to avoid notice by predators.

The old adage “Pull early, pull deep” could save you money.