Like most dirty jobs, maintaining winter cattle facilities isn’t a glamorous or even complex task, but it is vitally important. Cold, wet cattle are, at best, not in an environment to grow and perform. At worst, they are more susceptible to developing and spreading illness, including bovine respiratory disease (BRD).
How can you tell the difference between bovine respiratory disease (BRD) and endotoxins? Well, you can’t. With similar side effects, endotoxin events may be more widespread than anyone knows.
There are two sides of the equation when it comes to reducing environmental stress. The first part is creature comfort and the other is implementing best practices during processing. Minimizing stress is important because of the significant impact it can have on the development and spread of bovine respiratory disease (BRD).
During processing, make sure the pens and chutes are in proper working order. I recommend walking through them once a week to identify anything that could be poking or prodding the cattle. The quicker and easier the animal moves through the pen, the less stress there will be on the animal.
If you have a hydraulic chute, consider moving the pump outside to reduce noise. The noise may irritate the animal and can irritate employees, too. Typically, when employees become agitated, their job performance tends to worsen. Employees may work between 400 and 600 head of cattle a day, so facilities need to be easy to work in and environmentally friendly. By keeping the noise level down, the animals move through better, and the people are in a better mood doing a better job.
Water containers should be sticking out of the fence in the holding and receiving pens. When positioned this way, an animal walking around will bump the water and be encouraged to take a drink. This is the same for hay. You can stick a big, round bale of hay along the side of a fence, making the cattle more apt to take a bite. Almost everyone puts their feed trough up in the front of a receiving pen, which is fine, but you have to ensure that your animals are coming up and eating. Most of the time, they’ll stay in the back away from the noise and the commotion.
The design of a receiving pen must also allow cattle to move easily in and out for treatment. Receiving pens need to be designed for cattle so that when they come in, they have easy access to feed and water, and they can easily be moved in and out for treatment.
You do not want to run the cattle around for 30 minutes trying to get them out of the receiving pen. If that happens, then the treatment may almost be worse than the disease because the cattle are now not only sick but also increasingly stressed.
The better the facilities, the easier it is for your animals. The less stressed the animals, the more likely you’ll decrease your odds of a BRD outbreak.