Summer can present a variety of challenges and stressors to beef cattle that can lead to bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Mitigating risk is a critical component of a larger BRD battle plan, which also includes building immunity and managing infection. Risks can range from new cattle entering the herd to stressors caused by handling, nutrition and environment.

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Veterinarian / Boehringer Ingelheim

It’s good practice to work with your veterinarian to evaluate potential threats on your operation and develop a plan to prepare for, minimize and manage risks throughout the summer. For example, if new cattle are coming into your operation, evaluate them for diseases like bovine viral diarrhea virus and identify potential persistently infected animals. You may need to segregate them or remove them from the herd.

When planning for stressors, on the other hand, it may be more effective to address them by category:

  • Handling
  • Nutrition
  • Environment


Typically, animal handling can be well planned and managed to minimize stress responses in calves. Common activities associated with animal handling include vaccination, pen or pasture movement, and shipping. Train your team in low-stress handling techniques, and even do short refreshers before a planned handling activity. Proper handling techniques include:

  • Removing obstacles: This may mean inspecting a chute or alleyway to ensure there are no obstacles, such as broken boards, metal pieces, bolts, nails or other small objects, sticking out that could injure calves.
  • Testing equipment: Make sure all equipment is working properly before bringing in animals.
  • Minimizing loud noises: Remind your team not to yell or use high-pitched noises like whistling.
  • Avoiding or minimizing the use of cattle prods: These can startle and even injure calves.


When cattle are on pasture during summer months, monitoring the nutritional value of feed and forage is critical to animals sustaining a high-performing immune system. If you’re in a drought-prone area, look out for things such as forage with low nutritional value, mineral deficiencies, poor access to quality water and even growth of noxious weeds that are toxic to cattle.


When rotating cattle through pastures, your veterinarian, nutritionist and extension agent can provide insight into which noxious weeds are most likely to emerge in your area. Create a plan to remove or manage those weeds to eliminate the risk they pose to your cattle.

In addition, take forage samples to evaluate nutritional content. Ensuring access to quality water is also critical. If the water supply is lacking or of poor quality, cattle may not drink it, or it may contain minerals that tie up other necessary minerals the animal is consuming, which can lead to mineral imbalance. Work with your veterinarian, nutritionist and/or extension agent to address any deficiencies with supplemental feed and minerals.


Summer can be particularly dangerous when cattle are faced with high heat and humidity without proper access to shade and ventilation. Proper shade, whether under trees or a covered structure, is important to give animals protection from direct sunlight. For cattle in an open-air, dirt floor pen, providing bedding can help lower the temperature.

Dusty conditions can reduce air quality and cause breathing issues. For animals within structures, you may need to increase ventilation to improve airflow and quality. Addressing air quality for animals on pasture becomes more of a challenge. If possible, move animals to land with consistent ground cover to avoid blowing soil and debris.


Even with careful planning and management, it’s still important to monitor animals for signs of respiratory distress. Frequent observations help your team understand normal animal behavior so they can more quickly identify abnormal behavior. It’s generally considered good practice to observe cattle early in the morning to identify animals with possible BRD. Many in the industry use the D.A.R.T. system to evaluate animal health.

  • Depression: This typically presents itself as the head hanging a bit lower than normal, droopy ears, separating from the herd, weakness and lying around more than normal.
  • Appetite: Reduced feed intake can be an indicator of a sick animal. However, because animals are trained to go to the bunk, it might not be readily apparent that they’re consuming less. They may still go to the bunk, but they may be less aggressive or may not even eat.
  • Respiration: Obvious signs include nasal discharge or cough, but it’s also important to monitor their breathing pattern. More shallow or rapid breathing can be indicative of BRD.
  • Temperature: While D.A.R. are more subjective, T. is objective. It’s the rectal temperature. Consult with your veterinarian to determine a rectal temperature appropriate for your herd that could indicate BRD issues. It’s best to take the animal’s rectal temperature early in the morning to obtain an accurate reading.

Frequent observations, recordkeeping and a well-trained team can help quickly identify changes in animal behavior. When observations raise flags, you’ll be armed with the appropriate information to deploy a BRD management plan, whether that be separating cattle for further observation or implementing a treatment protocol.

If it is determined a calf needs to be treated, producers should work with a veterinarian to find an antibiotic that best helps the animal fight infection. Not every antibiotic is created equally, making it important for producers to find a fast-acting, long-lasting antibiotic that targets the four common BRD-causing pathogens.