Shipley says the top things to reduce antibiotic use in beef herds, in addition to colostrum management, are good vaccination programs and good overall cattle management.

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Boylen is a freelance writer based in northeast Iowa.

Shipley is the attending veterinarian for agriculture animals, Agriculture Animal Care and Use Program at the University of Illinois. “With recent changes in FDA policy toward antibiotics use and the Veterinary Feed Directives (VFD) initiative, it is imperative that the cattle industry look at best practices to reduce reliance on antibiotics.

“One of the keys to improving cattle health is to have a healthy calf born and get its belly full of colostrum in a timely manner,” he says. A calf should receive 10 percent of its bodyweight in colostrum in the first 12 hours.

He adds, “Colostrum is like gold. The (immune) protection it offers will be carried with them for the rest of their lives.”

Shipley knows it is difficult to monitor colostrum intake in beef cattle, but making sure calves are nursing within two hours can help ensure they are getting adequate intake.


“Most calves that come in sick to our hospital haven’t had enough colostrum,” Shipley says. Measuring total protein or IgG may be useful if you are having many health problems in your calves. Work with your local veterinarian to see if this may be practical in your situation.

Also within that first two hours of life, all calves should be cleaned and dried, have navel care, be identified and follow other standard operating procedures for that farm. “I see a lot of navel infections,” Shipley says.

Calves should have vaccinations that provide active and passive protection for respiratory, systematic and enteric (intestinal) disease. Other considerations are the use of colostrum supplements, probiotics and vitamins.

He says, “One thing I really want to hammer home is that if calves are off to a good start, they are more likely to be healthy and productive the rest of their lives.”

Assisting early in the calving process increases the chances of a live calf and a healthy mother. “If no progress is seen after two hours of active labor, intervention is probably necessary,” he says.

Shipley urged producers to work with their veterinarians to create vaccination programs specifically for their operation. “Feedlot cattle need to be protected against respiratory and systemic disease at the minimum. These programs should be worked out in conjunction with your local veterinarian due to their knowledge of your herd and the risk associated in the surrounding area, and your management type and style.

They are also the most likely to stay abreast of changes in vaccines, medications and will be needed to fill prescriptions and write VFDs for your operation.”

It is possible to over-vaccinate, Shipley says, which wastes money and is stressful for the animals. He says the most common mistake he sees on beef operations is producers not using their veterinarian as their top resource for advice and herd health protocols.

How you handle cattle is also very important. “Low-stress handling will improve animal health and well-being,” Shipley says. “It will probably improve our health (as handlers) as well.”

He says even if you think you know how to handle cattle, there is usually more to learn. Producers can attend low-stress handling seminars, work their extension professionals and use their computers to access this information. There are also videos that demonstrate low-stress handling techniques.

Some simple questions to ask yourself include: Do you like working with cattle? Are you afraid of them? Do you spend time observing your cattle and their behavior?

Having decent facilities that allow you to handle cattle properly also can make a big difference. Without good facility design, Shipley says, “You will be working against the cows and yourself.”

A solid pre-conditioning program also can help animals have better overall health and less death loss. Pre-conditioning programs should include proper vaccinations, clean and dry housing, and bunk management.

For those who wean calves early, Shipley recommends vaccinations prior to weaning and booster as appropriate. Talk with your veterinarian to design a pre-conditioning program that is right for your operation.

“Pre-conditioning vaccines and management practices should be a priority in reducing disease and reliance on antibiotics,” he says. “It not only keeps calves from getting sick, it’s also the right thing to do. Pre-conditioning generally pays for itself, and we owe it to the animals.”

Selection for genetics can also incorporate traits for disease resistance.

Shipley says antibiotics should be used to treat cattle when necessary, and the goal of new VFD regulations is not to prohibit that but rather to reduce unnecessary use. “This, in turn, improves animal health and performance while decreasing costs and reducing the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.”

Shipley stressed the importance of a good veterinarian/client relationship so the VFD is written correctly.  end mark

PHOTO: Dr. Clifford Shipley says the top things to reduce antibiotic use in beef herds, in addition to colostrum management, are good vaccination programs and good overall cattle management. Photo courtesy Clifford Shipley. Photo courtesy Clifford Shipley.

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer from Waterville, Iowa