This amount – which does not include indirect costs such as decreased animal performance, decreased carcass quality and labor costs – has doubled since the previous NAHMS study in 1999. This equates to millions of dollars lost each year due to BRD.

There are plenty of things that can be done to prevent BRD, though. Ideally, a preventative program should start at the level of cow-calf operations by appropriate vaccination, early castration and dehorning, as well as weaning before shipment, decreasing the morbidity and mortality of cattle entering the feedlot.

Risk factors associated with the development of BRD at the feedlot level include long transportations, commingling of animals from different sources, dust, sudden and extreme weather changes or cold temperatures.

Transportation itself might not be as stressful as previously thought, but the process of sorting, loading and earlier transit can have a negative impact on calves, influencing the development of respiratory disease due to a compromised immune system and a weakened response to fight infections.

The first 45 days after feedlot arrival, though, are considered the most critical time for the development of BRD. Here’s what you can do to decrease that risk.


Selection of cattle

Preventing respiratory disease in the feedlot starts with the selection of cattle placed in the lot. Due to commingling, calves coming from a sale barn or order buyer are at greater risk of developing BRD than cattle coming directly from a ranch of origin.

Reducing stress

Good stockmanship and applying low-stress cattle handling principles will help avoid stress on newly arrived calves. Handle the cattle quietly and calmly – don’t use electric prods and don’t whistle, yell or use whips to unload, sort and process cattle.

Implement yearly training sessions by experienced cattle handlers, teaching cattle behavior and handling before the fall run, especially if the feedlot crew has a high turnover.

Once animals are unloaded, avoid overcrowding of cattle in alleys and sorting pens; give them time to rest, rehydrate and eat before processing.

The receiving pen should be clean and straw-bedded if the operation experiences adverse weather. The cattle should have access to fresh water and good-quality hay.

Any stress can decrease their immune function, putting them at higher risk of contracting BRD. This rest period can help in regaining some of the immune-competence that transportation and commingling have disfavored.

Examine the load of cattle

Once the cattle have had sufficient rest, look over the type of cattle you’ve received. It is important to determine if the load is at risk of developing BRD or if they are already showing signs of the disease.

If many look sick on arrival, have a decreased rumen fill, are coughing or have a shrink over 7 percent, contact your veterinarian and discuss if metaphylaxis of the load is warranted. Your feedlot veterinarian can also give you the best advice about what medication to use.

Processing cattle

Again, it’s important to apply good stockmanship and low-stress cattle handling to decrease the incidence of BRD in your operation.

Vaccinate all arriving cattle against respiratory diseases within 24 hours of arrival. Contact your feedlot veterinarian to establish vaccination protocols and management strategies for animals which need to be castrated or dehorned.


Newly arrived calves should not be commingled with calves that have already been within the feedlot for a prolonged period of time.

Filling the home pens in a shorter period of time will also decrease the likelihood of BRD. Calves grouped together from multiple sources will show higher BRD incidence.

Home pen

Ensure that the correct ration of fresh food and water is in the feedbunk for the new cattle, and watch for signs of overeating. Look out for bawling calves who might not know which water tank to use.

Offer long, good-quality hay to transition them to the feedlot conditions. Some cattle, especially bawling calves, might not be familiar with concrete bunks and water tanks, so provide newly arrived animals with a balanced and palatable receiving ration.

Pen checking

Early detection of sick cattle is important to minimize the spread of disease and decrease costs associated with it.

Early detection of sick cattle is difficult, but if therapy has been initiated in the first 48 hours of the onset of pneumonia, the chance of survival of the animal is dramatically increased.

The best time to check the pens is early morning before the environmental temperatures get too high. Check all cattle at least once a day.

Pen checkers need to know the clinical signs and behavior changes of sick cattle. One of the early signs of BRD is that sick calves are slow to come to the bunk to eat, so the best time to check cattle is at feeding time.

If pen checkers are not able to observe cattle coming to the bunk, they should check their rumen fill to determine if an animal has been eating.

Pen checkers are crucial for detection and treatment of BRD. The success for treatment depends on the ability of the pen checker to detect these early signs of the disease: separation from others, not eating, avoiding eye contact with the pen checker and, if the disease has progressed long enough, a rough hair coat, blunt eyes, as well as a snotty nose and coughing when moved.

Following these suggestions can improve your chances of keeping your herd free of BRD, ultimately increasing your productivity and profit margin.  end mark

anita varga

Anita Varga DVM
UC – Davis Livestock Medicine and Surgery Service