Del Miles Says Show Me the Data

Feedyard Veterinary Consultant Del Miles combines rigorous science with good-old hard work. ( John Maday )

Here’s a tip for any young sales representative calling on Del Miles or one of the feedyards he advises: Arrive prepared to show solid, relevant, trial-based evidence supporting the value of whatever you are selling. If you don’t have it, postpone your call until you do.

Over more than 30 years in feedyard medicine and consulting, Miles has built a reputation for innovation, advocacy and applying scientific methods for evaluating, adopting and monitoring products and practices.

Miles says his early career helped shape his approach toward evidence-based health programs. After earning his doctorate of veterinary medicine from the University of Missouri, working in private practice, then completing a master’s program in veterinary pathology at Kansas State University, he took a research veterinarian position with what is now Bayer Animal Health. During that time, he oversaw trials for approval of new products and collaborated with leading scientists, gaining an appreciation for the value of rigorous scientific methods in feedyard research.

In 1984, Miles founded Veterinary Research and Consulting Services LLC (VRCS) based in Greeley, Colo. From the beginning, he decided his practice would not sell animal-health products, but would instead review research data, conduct internal research as needed and rely on research results to help his clients make decisions. He and co-owner Karen Rogers eventually built VRCS to include six associates, and they recently sold the practice to Trent Fox. The practice has now grown to include 11 associates, and Miles continues to consult with VRCS clients and conduct research. 

Miles points out feedyards, on average, work on extremely tight profit margins. A manager might, for example, expect a profit of $10 per head on a pen of steers. If adding a new treatment costs $2 per head but does not improve returns, it has reduced the feedyard’s return on investment by 20%. So unless he sees data indicating a product or practice will generate a positive return, he won’t recommend it.  

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Del Miles was inducted into the Cattle Production Veterinarian Hall of Fame in recognition for his dedication to health and well-being of cattle. (Photo: John Maday)

In some cases, his commercial trials have shown a new product can be associated with higher incidence of sickness or death loss. He prefers to discover that in a small trial, rather than finding problems after using the product in larger populations.

Miles and the VRCS team recently oversaw a research project to observe the effects of delayed vaccine administration.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Bayer Animal Health collaborated to explore a 30-day delay in administering a MLV vaccine, along with an immunostimulant in high-risk calves.

The research project explored the effects of delayed respiratory MLV viral vaccine (Pyramid 5) with or without the inclusion of an immunostimulant (Zelnate) on feedlot health, performance and carcass merits of auction-market-derived feeder heifers.

A total of 5,179 high-risk heifer calves in 60 pens were divided into four treatment groups of 15 pens. The research treatment plans included vaccination either delayed or on arrival, and with or without the immunostimulant upon arrival.

At 60 days on feed, covering a period that typically brings the highest incidence of respiratory disease, the researchers found no significant differences between the treatment groups in the incidence of cattle treated once for respiratory disease. However, the delayed vaccination groups, with or without the immunostimulant, had a significantly lower percentage of calves treated twice.

Throughout the feeding period, 25.8% of the heifers were treated for BRD and 10.6% were treated more than once. Average retreatment risk for the delayed-vaccination groups was 37.05%, compared with 43.97% for the heifers vaccinated upon arrival.

As for the immunostimulant treatment, the researchers observed a significant reduction in the percentage of BRD mortality and overall mortality in the immunostimulant groups, suggesting the product positively influenced the survivability of those calves that were treated for respiratory disease.

Even before the research trial was complete, Miles began recommending delaying use of MLV respiratory vaccination in high-risk cattle for 30 days after arrival, and a growing numbers of his clients have since adopted this practice. Practical experience, he says, has matched the results of the study. Miles also uses the immunostimulant in high-risk calves and again has seen results similar to those from the study.

In low-risk yearlings, he continues to vaccinate upon arrival to avoid an additional trip through the processing area. When ranch calves arrive with documentation they have received a five-way MLV viral vaccine within the past six months, he doesn’t repeat the vaccination on arrival.

The Cattle Production Veterinarian Hall of Fame honored Miles as the 2018 inductee for beef-cattle practice during the recent American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) conference.

The Cattle Production Veterinarian Hall of Fame is sponsored by Merck Animal Health, AABP, the Academy of Veterinary Consultants and Bovine Veterinarian magazine.

While introducing Miles at the induction ceremony, fellow VRCS veterinarian Bob Smith described him as tenacious, stoic and consistent, with a strong code of ethics, transparency, fairness and a well-honed sense of humor. On the feedyard, Miles builds relationships and relates to crew members, regardless of education level or ethnicity, as well as with owners and managers.

Miles also is generous with the time he gives back to the industry. He is a long-standing member and past president of the Academy of Veterinary Consultants (AVC), and he served on the AABP board of directors. Past awards include AVC Consultant of the Year, AABP Excellence in Preventive Veterinary Medicine and AABP Bovine Practitioner of the Year.

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