Keep Your Cattle and Margins Healthy

By Ralph Cleale, PhD, Outcomes Research, Zoetis
Treating bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is expensive. Plain and simple. The average cost of a BRD antibiotic treatment is $23.60.1,* However, what can get even more expensive than treating BRD is not treating BRD effectively. 
Death Losses
BRD is behind about 50%-70% of cattle deaths on feedlots each year. If we only consider the purchase price of the calf, assuming $900 per head, every 1% mortality would add a $9-per-head cost to your breakeven. 
But when you lose an animal to BRD, you lose more than just what you paid for that calf. For every increase in mortality, there are additional increases to the breakeven for your operation. On top of the purchase price, you have to consider additional expenses prior to death, including treatment and re-treatment medications you purchased to try to help treat BRD, labor costs of pulling and re-treating that animal multiple times, feed costs and opportunity costs.   
Chronic Losses
BRD also is behind about 75% of cattle illnesses on feedlots each year.2 If any of those cattle don’t respond to treatment, these chronic animals can add up to be at least half of your mortality costs, but likely more. Chronic cattle experience permanent health damage and add costly long-term performance losses. Some research shows chronics can be costlier than deads when you consider cost of feed, yardage interest and opportunity cost.3,**
For example, one study published in 2013 found net return to be up to $30.37 per head for cattle never treated for BRD compared with -$45.52 per head for cattle receiving more than three treatments, or a difference of $75.89 per head.3  
Save More Money and Cattle 
There isn’t a way to predict whether or not a load of cattle will be a wreck, but thanks to several recent studies, we know which antibiotics can help treat BRD more successfully. In fact, some antibiotics can result in almost doubling repeat BRD treatments4 as well as doubling mortalities and chronics5 on your operation due to poorer efficacy. As I shared above, if we only look at the purchase price of a calf, assuming $900 per head, this means that at a 1% mortality rate you would be doubling the $9-per-head cost to your breakeven. You would be adding at least an $18-per-head death loss expense using an antibiotic treatment that’s 50% less effective.
With your BRD treatment, you’re not only protecting your profits but also the life of your cattle. Starting with a more effective treatment can help you make fewer antibiotic treatment courses and decrease the significant impact deads and chronics have on your operation before it’s too late. 
More advice, articles, videos and study summaries from veterinarians and producers are available at There, you also can estimate your operation’s BRD treatment costs using the new BRD Cost Calculator. 
About the author
Dr. Ralph Cleale is a research director with Outcomes Research at Zoetis. He has a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in animal and veterinary science from the University of Maine-Orono and a doctoral degree in ruminant nutrition from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Since 2010, Dr. Cleale has researched the economic impact of animal health products and animal management practices on beef and dairy cattle productivity. Prior to Zoetis, he spent 23 years in new product development and animal product discovery for American Cyanamid and Fort Dodge Animal Health. Results of his research can be found in numerous peer-reviewed scientific and technical publications and in scientific presentations across the industry.
About Zoetis 
Zoetis (NYSE: ZTS) is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 60 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and markets veterinary vaccines and medicines, complemented by diagnostic products, genetic tests, biodevices and a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2017, the company generated annual revenue of $5.3 billion with approximately 9,000 employees. For more information, visit
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