Angus VNR: Reimagining Liver Health in Beef Cattle

It’s a silent challenge, yet costly to the beef cattle business: liver abscess disease.

“So one of the recent estimates would be about 60 million annually that liver abscesses could cost the beef packing industry,” says Scott Laudert, beef industry consultant.

“Then there are also performance effects that have a direct effect on the profitability to the cattle feed yard or the cattle owner. Usually we’ll see in severe abscess situations those cattle would have about a 5 % decrease in feed intake, about a 10 % reduction in average daily gain or performance. Carcass weight is also reduced by about 10 %, and so those the feed intake and the carcass weight or live weight would be a direct loss to the feed yard.,” Laudert continues.

That’s only on those deemed “severe.” About two-thirds of liver abscesses fall into the mild category, and don’t cause economic loss.

Today, antibiotics are the best tool for control, but Laudert says some best practices could be adopted to reduce overall use and improve outcomes.

“So my belief is that a producer needs to start his control measures very early in the feeding period for beef type steers and heifers,” Laudert says. “Once we start cattle on feed and they start going up on ration if there is any kind of inconsistent intake, they get too much grain and they get a buildup of lactic acid in their rumen-- then the bacteria can really proliferate and then that sets the animal up for the disease condition to go ahead and develop. So early and mid would be the critical times.”

Good bunk management is key. Starting treatment earlier, and ending it sooner shows promise.

“A lot of the producers have pulled Tylosin out of the market the last 30 days prior to harvest and have not seen an increase in liver abscesses. This is one step forward. We need more like that. Does roughage help? Is there vaccines that are going to address it independent of medically important antibiotics? That would all be positive,” says Glen Dolezal, vice president, Cargill Protein.

As cattlemen aim to balance care with concern for judicious antibiotic use, the feeding community is seeking new solutions.

“We’re encouraged that suppliers are experimenting and coming up with best practices to replace the need for using medically important antibiotics sub-therapeutically. We think it’s the right thing to do,” Dolezal says.

Cattle that have liver abscess disease don’t show clinical signs, and one study suggests they don’t even know it themselves…

“There is some research out of Colorado State University looking at cortisol levels and also temperature and mobility score as the cattle come out of a squeeze shoot and there’s no difference between the animals in those three parameters, the animals that had liver abscesses and those that didn’t. So the authors of the study concluded that liver abscesses don’t cause discomfort are likely not a welfare or well-being issues with feedlot cattle,” Laudert says.

Multi-faceted and under the radar, the problem is tricky and costly—but most certainly worth the effort to solve.