Take Data, Not Just Dates

With all the decisions cattlemen make and the investment behind each animal, it’s amazing how often important health management choices come down to a knee-jerk reaction. Responsible producers already have a trove of health data on their herds, but treatment records are more than just an expense tracker and compliance necessity. With further examination, they can be a key tool to make better decisions.

Whether you are looking at bovine respiratory disease (BRD) or other health issues, knowing how many animals are treated, or even the pull rate for a batch of cattle, is just the beginning. Calculating “incidence” – the number of new cases over a given period – helps to spot emerging trends. The “case fatality rate” – the number of deaths from a disease divided by the number of cases – can help differentiate between an effective health program, an underperforming one, a possible misdiagnosis or an underlying extraneous factor. All these measurements can be derived from information most producers already have on hand, and are most effective when combined with equally good records that document any nutrition, environmental and genetic changes in the herd.

A reoccurring incidence can alert producers of increasing pathogen loads or signal when calves are entering the “immunity valley” between protection from mother’s colostrum and the calf’s ability to mount its own immune response. It could also indicate a nutritional issue, environmental stress, or a genetic or lifecycle management issue endemic to the animals. In general, a case fatality rate significantly above or below 10 percent can indicate a treatment isn’t matching up with the actual health issue. Late treatments or misdiagnosis contribute to higher case mortality rates. Pulling healthy animals, or those with unrelated but non-fatal health issues, contributes to lower case mortality rates. Interpreting records isn’t an exact science. The more data a producer has to establish a norm for his operation, the more confidently the entire team – veterinarian, nutritionist and even geneticist – can sort out the contributing variables and formulate a plan.

As simple as making full use of records can be, the benefits are immense. Seeing the bigger year-to-year picture builds efficiency, improving health outcomes and a producer’s bottom line. Passing along detailed records also helps build confidence in individual producers and the industry. Buyers want to know where their animals came from, consumers want products they know were raised responsibly, and when any issues arise, consistent health data is critical to narrowing the search for a solution. The bottom line is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure and we don’t find a 100 percent of what we don’t look for. We all have data and valuable information right in front of us we underutilize.

How are you making management decisions? Do you crunch the numbers, or go with your gut? Is continual improvement in your health system something you strive for, or do you prefer to stick with methods tried and true?

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