Increasing Importance of a Herd Health Plan

Jennifer Archibald
for Tri-State Livestock News
Rob Eirich talking to producer Jessica Rodman of Gordon, Nebraska.

­­­­­­ Consumers are most concerned about taste, cost and nutrition. But, increasing in concern are animals that are humanely raised and are antibiotic free. These answers are the same for both rural and urban populations and mirror in national surveys,” said Eirich. “Antibiotic resistance is also an increasing issue in both human and animal health. So we as producers have to think about how we can build a good stewardship program around that.”

Penicillin was introduced in 1943. There was already resistance to it in 1940, that was naturally occurring which only increased with improper use.

A strong herd health plan begins with a good working relationship with your veterinarian and developing a yearly production calendar that includes cattle nutrition, reproduction management, vaccination schedules, and marketing, all of which are critical to sustainable beef cattle production.

Working with a veterinarian can help producers develop a program tailor made for their operation to manage disease, parasites and other regional health issues.

“Some of the best practices revolve around having a strong vaccination program and then determining what other health pressures you have,” said Eirich.

Core vaccinations are key to each group: bulls, mature cows, replacement females, calves at birth and weaning, and into each feeding stages.

With the new Veterinary Feed Directive regulations, producers should focus on prevention in order to minimize the need for treatment, due to the fact that feed grade antibiotics now require a veterinary prescription. Health issues that may have been treated using a feed grade antimicrobial in the past may no longer be an option, but there might be a vaccination available for prevention.

Cattle health and nutrition can’t be separated, therefore, nutrition is also an important element of all herd health plans. Building a nutrition plan around utilizing available feedstuffs and water supplies is a vital part of the yearly management calendar. Working with a qualified nutritionist to consider using probiotics and a mineral program can help improve the bottom line and improve the value realized from a herd health program.

It is important to comply with all product labels pertaining to dosage, administration, storage and withdrawal times, and to keep good health records. Several products contain the same active ingredient and there it is not necessary for producers to have several drugs of the same type.

Eirich said, having a herd health plan in writing is not a common practice, but it needs to be because not everybody is going to be there and will the next person in line know what needs to be done or what your herd has been vaccinated for or treated with.

“I feel the written plan falls into a lot of pieces from the sustainability aspect to herd management and health and our consumers are asking our packers to provide documentation about their product which will eventually work it’s way down to the producer. In the long run having these pieces in writing is going to be very valuable in moving livestock through the market,” he said.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Animal Science Department has online examples of herd health plans, veterinary client agreements, and beef production calendar at or at In addition, another great resource for information on disease and which drugs to use to treat livestock can be found in the Compendium of Veterinary Products app. F