Health Guarantees For Feeder Cattle

Many times when cattle change hands there is some expectation of a certification of health regarding the purchased cattle, according to Dr. W. Dee Whittier, Extension Veterinarian, Cattle: VA Tech.
calendar icon 13 May 2010
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However, these “guarantees” of health are somewhat ill defined. One of the major questions about health guarantees relates to the sales of feeder cattle.

The major disease of feeder cattle is shipping fever. Sometimes this condition is called pneumonia, respiratory disease or “respiratory disease complex”. It is important to understand how difficult to conquer this disease has been. Despite the development through the years of many vaccines, antibiotics and other treatments the disuse continues to be a major factor in our commercial cattle industry. This is, in part, because it has so many contributing factors.

All of the following have been shown to have a role in the development of shipping fever pneumonia:

  • Mixing of cattle
  • Hauling of cattle
  • Weaning
  • Changing nutrition
  • Too much grain resulting in acidosis
  • Infections of the viruses in common vaccines: IBR, BVD, PI3, BRSV
  • Infections of bacteria such as Manheimia, Pasteurella and Haemophilus
  • Infections with any number of other viruses for which there are no vaccines, some related and similar in their role to the human “cold” virus
  • Infections with Mycoplasma
  • Mineral deficiencies
  • Changes in weather
  • Others
With all those contributors, it becomes obvious that no one would be able to control all the factors that could result in calves getting pneumonia. So it would be fool hardy to “guarantee” that feeder calves will not get sick. But that doesn’t mean that some don’t imply or expect a lot more than is realistic. Beware if someone is promising that calves won’t get sick if you just do “_____________”.

So here are some things that are sometimes guaranteed:
  • A guarantee that vaccinations have been given and handlings like 45-day weaning have been done properly is a reward for buying high quality cattle. This is a lot better than a call from the auction box of, “They’ve had all their shots.” The VQA program uses a third party (Extension Agent, Vet, etc.) to verify that procedures have been done. They never have nor will guarantee that calves won’t get sick!
  • Some companies guarantee some support if there are problems. Promises to do autopsies, collect and analyze samples, and provide expert opinions are very valuable but they are not promises to buy dead animals, buy drugs needed for treatment or pay for veterinary services.
  • Some products guarantee that animals will respond to a vaccine. But a guarantee that steers will have antibodies to IBR, for example, is far from a guarantee that there will be no respiratory disease.
Both buyers and sellers of feeder cattle will do well to be very exacting in assessing guarantees. Buyers should not over interpret what is guaranteed and sellers should be very careful not to promise what they are neither willing nor able to deliver.

May 2010

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