Angus VNR: Innovations in BRD Diagnosis

A West Texas A&M animal scientist is working on better ways to predict and diagnose when feedlot cattle may be affected by that most complicated ailment—bovine respiratory disease, or B-R-D.

“It’s very complicated because it’s multifactorial,” says John Richeson, PhD, Associate Professor of Animal Science at West Texas A&M University. “From a pathogenic standpoint, there's many viruses involved in the disease and several different bacteria that are involved in the disease.”

One simple fact is, the earlier identified, the better we can treat BRD. That’s why feedyards give antimicrobial shots to EACH animal in a high-risk pen on arrival, though only 20% benefit from that strategy, called metaphylaxis. Richeson offered a better plan. 

“Targeted metaphylaxis is conceptual at the moment. Using some metric or group of metrics to try to predict whether an animal is going to be at greater risk for bovine respiratory disease so we can make decisions at chute side very rapidly,” says Richeson.

To see which animals are, or will be sick, those prediction metrics need data, from observation and diagnostic tools to assess physical, consumption and movement behaviors.  

“All the options have the advantage of monitoring cattle continuously so 24 hours, a day 7 days a week. An accelerometer in an ear tag or ankle bracelet or feeding behavior system,” Richeson continues.

These technologies can find clinically ill cattle a day or two before the average pen rider, allowing more effective treatment. Feedyard teams are currently test-driving several innovative programs. 

“There are feedlots that are beta testing technologies for companies as we speak. I think if and when the technology becomes widespread in the industry, it will go back on return on investment,” Richeson says. “We have got to go back to research to understand how much value there is in utilizing this new way of diagnosing BRD before we are going to see widespread adoption.”

Data shows sick cattle are less efficient on feed and earn lower quality grades at the packinghouse, so prevention is paramount.

“A pen of cattle that are affected with bovine respiratory disease are behind their healthy pen-mates. We can feed those cattle longer and try to recoup that lost performance but the inflammatory response that occurs during a respiratory infection likely also affects marbling and fat-deposition signals intramuscularly, that probably reduce the grade potential regardless of adding extra days of feed on those particular cattle,” Richeson concludes.

That’s why it’s best to monitor and act before the disease has a chance to set in.