Preventing Reproductive Losses: Secrets to a Healthy and Profitable Cattle Herd - Dr. Jeff Sarchet
November 13 | Written By Shaye Koester
When the term risk management is used in the cattle industry, oftentimes the first thought is related to cattle markets and the price received on sale day. However, it is important to remember that each and every management practice we choose to do or not do is also a part of our risk management strategy. Dr. Jeff Sarchet, an experienced veterinarian who currently serves as a beef technical service veterinarian for Zoetis, shared how cow/calf producers can manage risk and protect profit with a complete and up-to-date pre-breeding vaccination protocol for both cows and replacement heifers in Season 6 Episode 48 of the Casual Cattle Conversations podcast.
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Each management practice we choose to incorporate comes with a tradeoff and cattle producers need to be aware of the ROI before committing. Feed, labor and fuel are at the top of the list when it comes to expenses for cow-calf operators, but it can easily be argued that open cows are one of the most expensive components of any cattle operation too. “The best number I can give you is an estimate from a 2007 survey conducted by the USDA that focused on reproductive losses. They looked at open cows, abortions and newborn calf mortality. The estimated cost to the industry in 2007 was around $500 million which comes out to roughly $15/head when you divide that by the total cow inventory which fluctuates year-to-year. Now, this number is not the same for everyone. I had one client end up with a 43% calving crop, so to them the economic impact was much greater than $15/head. I’ve also had other clients where it is more like $4/head. The important thing to remember is that it is a risk that needs to be managed,” said Sarchet. Part of managing this risk is knowing what challenges are specific to your unique operation when you look at your whole system.
There are a host of diseases that can cause reproductive losses and these diseases can enter your herd in a variety of ways. Bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), Leptospirosis, Leptospira hardjo-bovis and vibriosis are some of the most common viruses that cattle producers need to protect against.
Leptospirosis is introduced into herds from an outside source such as canines, coyotes or other species. It is usually picked up through water sources. Most other viruses are transmitted through direct contact, or sexually transmitted like trichomoniasis and vibriosis. However, BVD and IBR are aerosol transmissions which means cattle from across the fence can transmit the virus to your herd. “The biggest thing is to talk to your veterinarian and set up a biosecurity and herd health based on what diseases pose the biggest risk of entering and infecting your herd,” said Sarchet.
When determining which vaccines to use for your herd, take time to read the label and learn what the vaccine is designed to protect against. “I mentioned that IBR and BVD both cause reproductive issues. They are also respiratory diseases. Make sure the label states there is fetal protection because the vaccine must be stronger to provide both fetal and respiratory infection as opposed to just respiratory protection,” said Sarchet.
Another key component of selecting the right vaccine for your herd is knowing how long the vaccine lasts in an animal’s system. This ensures your herd is protected and allows you to get the most out of your vaccines. Knowing the form of vaccine you are giving and how it works with the immune system cannot be overlooked during this process either. There are pros and cons to using modified live vaccines versus killed vaccines. Consult with your veterinarian about your herd’s history and exposure to vaccines to determine which will be the safest and effective option for your cows and heifers.
Cattle producers are stretched for time and good help is harder to come by, so reducing the amount of times cattle get handled through the chute can be tempting. Before making decisions to cut back on vaccinating to save a few dollars and hours, consider the bigger picture. “Input costs from vaccines, dewormers and other herd health practices are usually 5-7% of your total input costs. You can eliminate it and it won’t make a huge difference on your bottom line. However, if you do eliminate it and put yourself at risk for an abortion storm, it will have a huge impact on your bottom line,” said Sarchet. Know which practices will serve you during the highs and lows of the cattle markets and work with a team of experts to determine which options are in line with the goals of your operation. Every operation has unique goals and unique risks, find people who respect and understand what you need.
As you take the next steps of visiting with your veterinarian to check in about your herd health protocol and implement these strategies, remember that properly handling vaccines is the first step to managing risk and seeing a return on investment. Check the label to make sure everything is kept at the right temperature. Keep your area clean. Change needles often and properly clean your syringes.
“A lot of time what we concentrate on when we work our cattle is how fast can we get this job done, but I would encourage you to slow down and spend some time thinking about what is the best way to get this job done right,” said Sarchet.