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When animals cough repeatedly, it's time to pay attention

fotoedu/iStock/Thinkstock vet listening to cow with stethescope
TIME FOR CHECK: Dad's gift of a stethoscope from his career as a veterinarian comes in handy when livestock show signs of needing attention for respiratory issues.
Repeated coughing or a runny nose means livestock need attention, maybe even medication.

When respiratory issues affect our livestock, it is time for action.

Any fluctuation in temperature or a big rainfall seems to make our heifers and goats a little snotty. Not in attitude but literally, giving them a runny, snotty nose. It is annoying and gross, but also a sign that there might be something wrong with the animal internally.

I tell the kids that when they hear a cough among their animals they need to physically turn their head and watch to see from whom it came. Then they need to listen again. If the animal coughs repeatedly, it's time to get out the stethoscope and listen to their lungs.

My dad was a veterinarian for 32 years, and now is a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service deputy director. He gave me his stethoscope when he retired from veterinary work and I love it. It is old school black and silver, straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. I use it every so often to determine if the sound of raspy lungs deserve a trip to the vet or a shot of medicine.

Besides snot being annoying in cattle, it is a sign of potential bovine respiratory disease, a problem that can dramatically affect the profitability of a beef cattle operation. Medication costs for treating diseases like BRD can be a large and variable expense.

Antibiotic costs are directly related to efficacy, or the number of re-treatments needed after an initial BRD treatment. More BRD re-treatments mean your family or employees will spend more time pulling and re-treating cattle and less time improving other areas of the operation. Using a less effective antibiotic can mean ranchers are also paying for more BRD treatments and getting decreased employee and cattle productivity. 

Trying to cut your BRD treatment costs with a cheaper antibiotic sounds like a good option on the surface, but it might not be the best for your bottom line or your operation. Not all antibiotics have the same efficacy, which was demonstrated in a recently published analysis of BRD treatment studies. In fact, Jeff Sarchet, D.V.M., Beef Technical Services, for Zoetis, says some studies have found antibiotics are only half as effective as other options for treating BRD. Many antibiotics that are cheaper have been shown to be less effective, which leads to more cattle re-treats and higher medication and labor costs.

Sarchet says that when using an antibiotic that's only half as effective as another option, a rancher will need to double the number of re-treatments and also double the amount of time employees are spending administering these re-treatments. In addition to extra medicine costs for re-treats, labor costs could be considerably higher using a cheaper, less effective antibiotic.

The bottom line, Sarchet says, is that every rancher has the same number of hours in the day so the impact of a cheaper, less effective BRD antibiotic will always cost more of that sacred time.

When we hear raspy lungs our first treatment is Draxxin injectable solution. It has a proven track record among antibiotics for treatment of BRD and other respiratory infections. I'm not sure what other antibiotics Dad used because I remember giving heifers a shot of "Drax" first. I'm sure efficacy was in the back of Dad's mind. Even as a veterinarian, when Dad treated our animals he certainly didn't want to treat then re-treat.

Instead of forcing the kids or paying people to pull and re-treat more cattle, ranchers can spend more time improving cattle management, which includes implementing vaccination programs that help prevent BRD and the need for respiratory treatments. 

 It's crucial to consider the efficacy of the antibiotic for efficiently and cost-effectively treating BRD. Livestock are a significant investment and the right treatment can help protect those live dollar bills.

Thanks, too, Dad, for the stethoscope.

McCurry writes from Colwich.

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