Justin Sexten is Vice President of Strategy for Performance Livestock Analytics.
We know respiratory disease (BRD) is expensive due to performance and carcass merit losses and so we continue the search for improved diagnosis and treatment methods to reduce the impact on the beef supply chain. Diagnosing disease without labor is where future technologies will make the biggest impact.
Joaquin Baruch led a group reporting on novel diagnostic methods in the most recent Journal of Animal Science. The novel aspect of this research was the variety of tools used for daily calf monitoring for BRD.
This Kansas State group used six different methods to monitor disease progress, visual detection using illness scoring, temperature monitoring via traditional rectal temperatures or using facial thermography, a computer aided stethoscope, lung ultrasound imaging, or oxygen saturation measurements.
When these methods were compared all the tools tended to relate to the lung damage caused by BRD. Simply put the methods tested can detect BRD related lung damage, however the authors suggested the results were not directly applicable to field conditions due to the intensive nature of the experiment. That said, there were some interesting notes on the methods worth exploring further.
The illness scores are simple to use and require no restraint or equipment beyond a trained eye. However these scores are subjective and some calves may appear ill due to other factors beyond BRD. I suspect you can relate, there are days when you are healthy but just don’t look your best.
Temperature while a simple measurement to gather in most cases requires restraining the calf. If we use sensors to collect temperature remotely, one challenge remains, sorting through the environmental causes of elevated temperature such as animal to animal variation, heat stress, physical movement, estrus and disease.
This paper highlighted temperature as an indirect measure of BRD, one unable to sort the difference between viral or bacterial infections. If our goal is to reduce antibiotic use with technology, then new methods should help us know when using an antibiotic will help fight the bacterial disease and when we are fighting a virus that may eventually lead to a bacterial infection but will not respond to antibiotic treatment.
The ultrasound, oxygen saturation and computer aided stethoscope were able to objectively measure disease progress. The authors suggested operational infrastructure, equipment cost and user training as the greatest challenge to these technologies in their current state.
At larger scale operations these technologies may provide reliable solutions yet the scale making these solutions feasible often results in labor challenges to deploy them. Opportunities to diagnosis disease without labor or removing animals from pen or pasture are where future technologies will offer additional solutions.
When considering the issue of labor and BRD treatment a recent paper by Jase Ball and co-workers at the University of Arkansas provides a look at antibiotic treatment options for respiratory disease in high-risk calves.
Treatment labor in high-risk calves can be reduced by effective metaphylaxis or by using products with longer post treatment intervals. Effective metaphylaxis can reduce overall treatment rate and associated labor by concentrating labor at processing and preventing further outbreak due to preventative treatment.
Post-treatment intervals (PTI) are used to specify the time between treatment and when a calf would be eligible for re-treatment. Products with longer PTI tends to reduce labor needs since the antibiotic is working longer after a single treatment. Each antibiotic class has a slightly different mode of action or way they attack bacteria and the time they are effective can differ within the same class.
In this Applied Animal Science paper there were no performance differences observed due to the treatment protocols and the total cost of antibiotic treatments didn’t differ between groups. Some may suggest with no performance or cost differences there is little to learn.
A closer look at the methods used to get these neutral results are where the differences were found. One protocol reduced reduced antibiotic use per calf by over 25% due to reductions in both first and second treatments. With this reduction in re-treatments there was reduced treatment labor and associated chute costs.
Since this was a production system comparison, with different drug classes and PTI’s the mechanism causing reduced antibiotic use between protocols will remain unknown. Calves were diagnosed and treated based on visual illness scoring and rectal temperatures, which as discussed previously offer opportunities for technology improvement.
Technology will continue to provide animal health solutions. What we need to realize is those solutions may look very different from what we are using today. This discussion focused on diagnostic and treatment options, true opportunity lies in the ability to provide the supply chain with cattle in need of neither diagnosis or treatment.
There are many vaccine and management solutions available to prevent BRD yet the “product failure” is largely the inability to narrow the communication gap of preventive practices in the supply chain. Producers using current prevention technologies should look to align their practices and management with a marketing partner with the ability to truly communicate the value-added to the next step in the supply chain.