Gerald Stokka: What’s the cost of calf health?
How does your animal health management program impact your bottom line? What is the cost of maintaining optimal calf health, and what is it worth? These were the questions answered by Jerry Stokka, DVM, at the annual Pfizer Animal Health meeting in Brookings, SD, held Feb. 10, 2011.
“I know what you’re thinking; if a veterinarian asks you to run your cows through the chute another time, that’s a big demand on your time,” said Stokka. “In this business, there is more than an economic interest in our cattle – it’s about animal welfare and environmental stewardship. We have to reconnect with our consumers.
Stokka stressed the importance of a management plan and how daily decisions contribute to profitability.
“Of the many factors that go into a cattle operation, vaccinations only contribute to 10 percent of your decisions,” explained Stokka. “So, what does it cost? Health costs take up approximately 5 percent of your total input costs, including vaccinations, pregnancy-examinations, fertility-checks, deworming and extra medicines. At the end of the day, health care will typically cost a producer $15-$30 per cow, per year.”
Although these costs are minimal, Stokka said too many producers try to cut their spending even more in this area.
“I’m not criticizing folks for trying to save money, but skipping pregnancy-examinations or deworming doesn’t really make economic sense,” said Stokka. “Maybe you’ll save $2 a cow on preg-checking, but in the long run, the savings are minimal. The idea of trying to save money by cutting corners probably isn’t a good idea, especially with what cattle are worth right now. Most importantly, just when you think you don’t need to vaccinate to prevent something, watch out.”
He added that it’s important for producers to pay attention to the big picture, to avoid stress throughout a calf’s lifetime. Stokka introduced a vaccination philosophy for producers to keep in mind. A vaccine must be necessary, effective and safe.
“Is the vaccine necessary?” Stokka asked. “Does the vaccine work? Is it safe to use? Follow the old adage, ‘do no harm,’ and that’s the best policy. For a vaccine to work, there needs to be an immune response – cognition, activation and effect.”
What about timing? Stokka said observing an immune response is complicated and takes time.
“An immune response takes 3-10 days to kick in,” explained Stokka. “It takes longer with naive animals. Most immune responses will kick in within 2-4 weeks.”
When considering the many vaccines and options to administer to cattle, Stokka said it can be difficult to know what to cover for.
“How do I know how to make the decision about what’s a threat to my herd?” asked Stokka. “Well, we will never be able to eliminate IBR or BVDV in the U.S. – there are too many cattle in too many different regions. I hope most of you aren’t treating for trichomoniasis because if you are, that means you are in a high-risk area. If your neighbor has it, you better be doing it. As far as leptospirosis, which causes abortions, still-births and weak calves, I would definitely vaccinate for this.”
Vaccination programs are important for more than just the replacement heifers and cowherd. Stokka pointed out that producers often forget about herd bulls.
“Vaccination programs are a risk assurance against problems,” said Stokka. “Sometimes, we forget about our herd bulls; we need to keep their vaccinations updated. A good time to do this is at their annual pre-breeding fertility exam. For cows, many producers want to give vaccines at preg-checking time. This is fine, but a word of caution for this time of year is producers must follow label recommendations very closely. If done incorrectly, you could lose your calf. Be very, very careful.”
Finally, Stokka offered some advice on commingling and receiving new calves.
“There is no other way that I know of to manage a high-risk animal than to give antibiotics upon arrival,” advised Stokka. “Obviously, this won’t eliminate all troubles, but will reduce incidence of health problems.
While these are just a few of the many considerations producers must think about when developing and following a cattle health program, as long as producers don’t cut corners and skimp on this small investment, they should feel confident that their cattle are healthy and will get the job done.
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