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Not Everything Is Pneumonia

Over the years, conditions seen at the feedlot have changed along with the method of treatment many operators are using. With many common conditions, veterinary intervention is necessary and common management practices need to be change to avoid or prevent them. With manpower a precious commodity, especially in the feedlot, labour-intensive practices need to be reduced wherever possible.

For anyone feeding heifers, the dreaded calving problems associated with a fat heifer can be a recipe for disaster. Usually the calf is dead or non-viable and the heifer’s life is at risk. On top of that there could be a large veterinary bill. The most economical solution is have the veterinarian preg check at first implanting and abort at that time. Some feedlot veterinarians have the whole pen given shots to abort, but seldom is the pregnancy rate high enough to warrant that. The negative in giving shots to all is the drug costs, beef quality assurance (giving lots of shots in the muscle unnecessarily), and the process ends up synchronizing the rest of the heifers so there is lots of cycling. By preg checking you can identify which ones are pregnant and can watch them closer, plus if they are further pregnant, the veterinarian will usually advise two shots (a prostaglandin and dexamethasone). Early intervention avoids the calving issues, c-sections, hard pulls, downers, retained placentas and all the problems, which often happen right as the heifers are ready to be shipped.

Prolapsed rectums or vaginas, if occurring in increasing numbers, may be the result of excessive riding due to improper implanting, an outbreak of coccidiosis, or many other problems. It’s important as your veterinarian is correcting the problem he/she be asked about potential causes. Vaginal prolapses can be sutured in such a way so the suture can be left in indefinitely, preventing a reoccurrence. You will always encounter a few of these in the feedlot regardless of good management, but early detection and treatment will minimize complications.

Abscesses and other lumps and bumps are common sequalae (abnormal conditions) to processing injuries, use of dirty needles and excessive riding. Again if the incidence increases, analyze your processing protocol. Lumps should be checked by inserting a sterile (new) needle over a cleaned up area. If pus is present, lance and flush the abscess, but if you see only clear fluid, indicating a bruise, leave it to resolve on its own. If uncomfortable doing this, or if the abscess is over a vital area like the jugular vein, it is a better left for a veterinarian. Smaller abscesses, that stay the same size, can be left as they are. It is only a blemish that can be simply trimmed out at slaughter.

Waterbellys, with either urine collecting in the abdomen as is the case of a ruptured bladder, or urine collecting around the sheath and underbelly with a ruptured urethra, both pose a guarded prognosis even with surgery. Surgery involves bringing the penis out the back end (perineal urethrostomy). If the steer (this is found rarely in bulls and never in heifers) is found soon enough before it becomes too ill and toxic, it may be treated with surgery. Fortunately these are rarer events in most western Canadian feedlots.

Riding poses its share of complications from bruising along the back, to disruption in pen dynamics, if staggy animals are present. I would suggest castrating, or at least removing any intact bulls you detect from the feedlot. Often the true sweet-asses should live out their days in the chronic pen, as each time they are returned to their home pen, riding often ensues. If too much riding is a problem check out the implanting technique, pen design and strategies for mixing cattle.

Lameness can occur sporadically or in an outbreak form much like in a cow-calf operation. One must decide between injury and infectious causes, as many injuries, sprains or strains heal up on their own without any treatment. Too many arthritic conditions become long term issues and prevention with Histophilus and BVD vaccination go a long ways toward keeping these problems in check. Treat each lameness as an individual case, as the causes and treatments to correct them are extremely varied. A single protocol for treating lame animals, in my mind, does not cut it.

Digestive upsets are rarer these days due to proper feeding practices and the use of ionophores like Rumensin. Acidotic (overloaded cattle) are weak, have diarrhea and will look dehydrated, full and go down. Reintroduction from the hospital pen back to the home pen and mix ups in feeding are common causes of this. Develop a protocol with your herd veterinarian on specific antacids and fluid therapy. Affected animals can be butchered if no medication has been used, so don’t get overzealous with antibiotic usage.

In processing cattle, adhere to beef quality assurance protocols, select the proper needle size, and recognize proper meat withdrawal periods.

Many conditions are not pneumonia so don’t assume that it is always the likely cause. Conditions already mentioned as well as peritonitis necrotic laryngitis, and kidney infections have different clinical signs than pneumonia, and treatment is often different or not at all required. Develop protocols for all conditions seen at your feedlot, including clinical signs and courses of action. This will yield a better recovery rate, save dollars on medical costs or labor, and allow cattle to be shipped before drugs are administered.

Roy Lewis is a practicing large animal veterinarian at the Westlock Veterinary Center, north of Edmonton, AB. His main interests are bovine reproduction and herd health.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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