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7 minute read

Manage Bovine Respiratory Disease with Performance Trace Minerals

Beef cattle standing in pasture.
Dr. Chris Ashworth, DVM

Global RNS Species Leader – Beef
Zinpro Corporation

Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) impacts the beef cattle industry by an estimated $800 to $900 million USD in annual losses, plus an additional loss of $110 million USD annually in processing sick animals. Research shows that BRD is responsible for 80 percent of all deaths of calves entering commercial feed yards in the United States.

The negative impact BRD has on production and on a beef producer’s bottom line can be reduced with proper management strategies and performance trace mineral nutrition.

Factors Contributing to Bovine Respiratory Disease

First and foremost, an animal that is not getting adequate energy, protein or trace minerals in their ration will suffer from a weakened immune response and are, therefore, going to be more susceptible to BRD and other viral infections.

A calf that has not been vaccinated is at a much higher risk for BRD after 4 to 5 months of age. Younger calves that are still nursing their dam will have high levels of immunoglobulin in their blood from colostrum they consumed in the first hours after birth. However, at about 4 to 5 months of age, levels of those antibodies, or immunoglobulins in the bloodstream, start to decline, leaving calves more susceptible to BRD.

Bovine respiratory disease is a multifactorial infection — viral and bacterial diseases working together against the calf’s immune system. Oftentimes a viral pathogen invades the animal that suppresses the animal’s immune system, allowing various BRD bacteria to take over, cause extensive lung damage, allowing these bacteria to have a much more damaging impact than the bacteria would have had on its own. This could ultimately lead to the death of a calf. Controlling other viral infections can prevent BRD from becoming as severe.

Weather also contributes to beef cattle becoming infected with BRD. Calves dealing with rain, high winds, dust or cold temperatures will become stressed, which can also weaken their immune response.

Bovine Respiratory Disease Affects Performance and Immunity

When calves become infected with BRD and get a fever, their water intake will decrease, and they may become dehydrated. When calves become dehydrated, their blood flow slows down. When this happens, white blood cells don’t leave their blood vascular space to go into the upper respiratory tract or to the lungs to fight off BRD infections. This greatly limits the animal’s ability to defend against invading pathogens.

Bovine respiratory disease also causes a decrease in production performance. Calves that become infected with BRD will consume less feed and will therefore have less weight gain and will face an increased risk of mortality.

Management Strategies to Control Bovine Respiratory Disease During Weaning

With proper management strategies, beef producers can reduce the incidence of BRD and its impact on their beef operation. Some best practices for managing BRD during weaning include the following:

  • Vaccinate calves twice, two to four weeks apart during weaning: When calves get a second dose of the same vaccine within four or five weeks of the first dose, they will experience a higher level of antibody production and a much higher level of protection from BRD and other bacterial and viral infections.
  • Practice low-stress cattle handling techniques when vaccinating. This includes applying proper pressure when processing, minimizing noise when moving calves and ensuring calves can see you.
  • Fence line weaning: Weaning calves at the fence line adjacent to where their dam is housed is much less stressful compared to loading calves onto a trailer and moving them to a different site or facility. Ensure the calf and the cow can see each other and touch nose-to-nose. By conventional weaning age (6 to 7 months), calves are fully competent to graze or eat a mixed ration; they no longer rely on the dam’s milk solely for their diet. But by allowing the calf to see and communicate with the cow, the calf’s stress is greatly reduced. Reducing stress in calves will improve their immune response and increase the effectiveness of their vaccines.
  • Provide calves with performance trace minerals free choice while they are growing and nursing on the dam. This will help them improve their ability to mount a rapid and robust immune response following pre-weaning vaccination.

Performance Trace Minerals Help Control Bovine Respiratory Disease Before Birth

When cows are fed performance trace minerals during the last trimester of gestation, they produce more and a higher-quality colostrum. This colostrum is then passed on to the calf. The immunoglobulins in colostrum that are consumed by the calf during the first 12 hours after birth are a significant part of the calf’s immune system for the next four to five months, through weaning, and throughout their life.

A research study conducted by Zinpro at Oregon State University revealed that calves born from cows fed Availa®4 during the third trimester had a significant reduction in bovine respiratory disease treatment rates in the feed yard.

  • Twenty percent of the calves from cows fed Availa-4 were treated for BRD, compared to 42 percent of calves from cows with no supplementation and 59 percent of calves from cows fed inorganic trace minerals. It should be noted that treatment rates for control and inorganic treatments were not significantly different.
  • The reduction in BRD incidence reduces not only cost of the treatment drug for the producer but also labor and stress on the animals.

The study was conducted as part of Zinpro’s Generational Nutrition® program which highlights how feeding performance trace minerals to gestating cows helps improve the wellness and performance of their offspring. Availa-4 is a unique combination of copper, zinc, manganese and cobalt that is research-proven to deliver strong performance benefits to the beef cow herd and a solid economic return to the cow/calf producer.

Controlling Bovine Respiratory Disease in the Feed Yard

Management strategies must continue once the calves enter the feed yard. Best practices for managing BRD in the feed yard include the following:

  • Vaccinate the calves once more between one and four days after they enter the feed yard. This will further help to fortify their immune system and help with their ability to mount a rapid and robust immune response against BRD challenges.
  • Limit stress by ensuring you’re not overcrowding the animals. Producers should provide at least 120 square feet (11 square meters) per animal in the feed yard — much more if pen conditions are wet.
  • Feed performance trace minerals. Many calves enter the feed yard with a trace mineral deficiency. When beef calves haven’t consumed enough trace minerals in their ration, they will not have as rapid and robust of an immune response to a BRD challenge or to vaccination. Performance trace minerals are absorbed into the calf more efficiently and used by the calf much more effectively to build immunity.  Calves fed performance trace minerals will see an improvement in antibody production and, therefore, will respond better to vaccines. Performance trace minerals also improve white blood cell function, enhancing their ability to eat up and kill bacteria and viruses.

To learn more about the research-proven benefits of feeding Availa-4 to beef cows as part of the Generational Nutrition Program, download this Availa-4 research report  or contact your Zinpro representative. To discover additional highlights from this research, download our research summary: Feeding the Beef Cow Availa-4 Improves Productivity and Economic Returns of the Calf.

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