Healthier cattle fatten the bottom line

by Meat&Poultry staff
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WOOSTER, OHIO – In the feeding phase, treating cattle for sickness may be costing more than originally thought, according to a Certified Angus Beef LLC (C.A.B.) press release.

“Of course, healthy cattle have lower treatment costs. But they also perform much better in the yard and on the rail. That combination sets up the huge gaps between who makes money feeding cattle and who doesn’t,” said Gary Fike, C.A.B. beef cattle specialist.

Those factors lead to a $190 net difference between cattle treated twice and those that never needed treatment.

Last month, Mr. Fike explained the effect of health treatments on feedlot performance, carcass traits and profitability at the Midwest section meetings of the American Society of Animal Science. The information was drawn from Iowa Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (T.C.S.C.F.) data on nearly 50,000 head of cattle fed in 18 Iowa feedlots since 2002.

Cattle remaining healthy during the feeding phase had heavier delivery weights, final weights, stronger gains and fewer days on feed than their treated counterparts. Cattle that were never treated in the feedlot arrived weighing 650 lbs.; those that ended up being treated once weighed 617 lbs. and those treated twice entered the yard at 601 lbs.

“There’s a lesson in those numbers,” Mr. Fike said. “The cattle that were not treated are a little older and heavier when they arrive, which tells me they spent more time at home being backgrounded and getting all those sickness problems straightened out before they ever left the ranch.”

During the meetings, Darrell Busby, T.C.S.C.F. manager, presented related research that focused on the cost of lung adhesions, which data revealed amounts to more than $40 per head. Mr. Busby said that cost is the result of the same issues uncovered in the study of health treatment costs.

“The cattle with lung adhesions weigh 8 lbs. less than those with none,” he said. “That indicates there are a lot of things that happen prior to the feedlot that cause these lung adhesions.”

Lung adhesions in the study were defined as blemishes that require a knife to remove the lung tissue from the ribcage of the carcass. “Our data is recognizing that these severe cases of lung adhesions, which represent about 4% of the population, are what cause the most damage in terms of lost performance, lighter carcass weights and lower marbling scores,” Mr. Busby said.

Cattle with lung adhesions had to be administered health treatments 2.2 times more than those without. Similar to the data Mr. Fike presented, Mr. Busby says that increase in treatment cost (nearly $7 more for individual drug treatments) isn’t the only place cattle with lung adhesions lose.

The percentage of carcasses that met C.A.B. brand acceptance dropped from 18% to 12% when lung adhesions were present. A similar quality drop was found between cattle never treated and those treated twice (19% vs. 11%).

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