Despite tremendous advancements in animal husbandry, health and handling through the years, bovine respiratory disease (BRD) remains a serious health issue for the cattle industry. On a more positive note, however, we have achieved a greater understanding of the disease, production of safer and better vaccines, and the development of antimicrobials with greater duration and better speed of action – all of which are excellent tools to prevent and treat BRD, as well as reduce its impact.
We understand that there is a common season and often some common predisposing factors for respiratory disease. We also know that the bacterial causes of BRD are present in all cattle, and that common management practices, weather and multiple stressors can increase the likelihood of developing respiratory diseases. Throughout the years, we also have learned that some of the organisms that cause respiratory disease can also suppress the bovine immune system and cause additional diseases such as bovine viral diarrhea virus, which makes control and treatment of BRD even more challenging.
Improvements to animal genetics and nutrition have resulted in bigger cattle that grow more quickly. This has created the need to better understand the impact of nutrition on animal health and how this relates to BRD. A hurdle we continue to face with BRD is proper identification of sick animals and rapid treatment once diagnosed. Their biology, behavior and herd mentality make cattle masters at hiding illness, which means we must continually be on the lookout for even the most subtle signs of respiratory disease.
Studying BRD has allowed us to appreciate the complexity of the disease. There is never one simple answer. That’s why it remains critical to have the veterinarian, the producer and the nutritionist working together in the battle against this serious health threat.