Have you ever wondered how your management practices compare with other ranchers? If so, you can turn to the periodic studies from the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), a program within the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
NAHMS conducted its first cow-calf survey in 1993, to provide baseline information and track trends in health and management. The program completed additional cow-calf studies in 1997 and 2007/08. This fall, NAHMS is engaged in its Beef 2017 study, seeking insights on how the cow-calf industry has changed over the past 10 years.
APHIS veterinary epidemiologist Chuck Fossler, DVM, leads the team conducting the Beef 2017 study. He says NAHMS researchers will invite a random sample of cow-calf producers from 24 states to voluntarily participate, beginning this month. A second interview will follow in 2018.
The researchers offer a couple of attractive and valuable incentives. Producers who participate in both interviews will be eligible to conduct testing on their entire spring calf crop for persistent infection of bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) and to submit a forage sample for nutrient analysis.
Importantly, Fossler notes, all participation in the Beef 2017 study is voluntary and the data from the individual producers is confidential and reported only in an aggregate summary form.
For comparison and identification of trends,most questions in the 2017 survey are similar to those asked in 2007. The survey will cover some new ground to match current production issues, such as the use of remote-delivery darts for treating cattle, preconditioning programs and overall nutrition. Antibiotic use will be discussed, including use of chlortetracycline in minerals. Lastly, questions about the veterinarian-client-patient relationships (VCPR) will be discussed.
As researchers begin the 2017 survey, consider these key management trends. How does your operation compare?
- In 2007, six out of 10 operations (60.6%) did not vaccinate beef calves for respiratory disease from birth to sale, and 30.9% of calves were on these operations.
- A higher percentage of operations in the Central region (67.9%) and the West region (56.4%) vaccinated any cattle or calves against BVD compared with operations in the Southeast region (28.9%).
- About four out of 10 operations (41%) vaccinated any cattle or calves against BVD in 2007. The percentage of operations that vaccinated any cattle or calves against BVD varied by herd size, ranging from 28.6% of operations with one to 49 beef cows to 80.5% of operations with 200 or more beef cows.
- For cows sold for purposes other than breeding in 2007, 33% were sold due to pregnancy status (open or aborted), and 32.1% were sold because of age or bad teeth.
- A higher percentage of unweaned calves (7.2%) and replacement heifers (6%) were treated at least once with oral or injectable antibiotics for any diseases or disorders than mature cows (1.9%).
- About half of all operations (50.8%) consulted a veterinarian for some reason during the previous 12 months. Interaction with a veterinarian was more common among herds with 200 or more cows (82.2%) compared with operations with fewer than 50 cows (43.2%).
"It will be interesting,” Fossler notes, “to see if the percentage of operations consulting a veterinarian in the previous 12 months has changed due to the new VFD (Veterinary Feed Directive) rules that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.”
- About half of cattle operations (54.5%) had no set breeding season. However, only 34.1% of the cows represented in the survey were on operations with no set breeding season, indicating this practice is more common on smaller operations.
- A higher percentage of cattle operations in the West and Central regions (92.3% and 84.2%, respectively) castrated any bull calves born in 2007 before selling them than did operations in the South Central and East regions (43.9% and 46%, respectively).
Most producers observed heifers and cows regularly during calving (92.7% and 89%, respectively). The majority of cows and heifers (95%) required no assistance at calving. Two-thirds of calves (65.8%) born in 2007 were born in the first four months of the year.
- During the first six months of 2008, nearly all calves born to beef cows and beef heifers were born alive (97.9% and 94.2%, respectively).
- The percentage of calves born that had or were expected to have horns declined from 27.8% in 1997 to 12.4% in 2007.
- Calves born dead accounted for nearly half of all calves (44.5%) that died prior to weaning during the first six months of 2008. Only 14% of calf loss or death occurred three weeks or more following birth but prior to weaning.
- Only 12.3% of operations had not heard of BVDV, and 64% of operations were fairly knowledgeable or knew some basic information about the virus.
- Only 4.2% of producers did any testing for persistent infection of BVDV in the past three years.
- Of the 205 operations that submitted ear-notch samples for BVDV testing, only 8.8% had at least one persistently infected animal.