Texas A&M-led study seeks to understand management factors affecting bovine respiratory disease risk

Sarah Capik, D.V.M., Ph.D., will lead a multi-state research study to determine if cattle management impacts BRD risk. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

AMARILLO – Animal welfare, sustainability and economics are affected when beef cattle suffer from bovine respiratory disease, or BRD.

“BRD is hard to simplify as there are multiple risk factors and pathogens involved, but it is one of the biggest health issues facing the beef and dairy industries,” said Sarah Capik, D.V.M., Ph.D., assistant professor of ruminant animal health with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Amarillo.

Along with her work with AgriLife Research, Capik holds a joint appointment with the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical SciencesDepartment of Veterinary Pathobiology, College Station and is involved in the new Veterinary, Education, Research & Outreach Center in Canyon, a partnership between TAMU CVM and West Texas A&M University, Canyon.

New study

How cattle are managed has the potential to impact BRD risk, but further research is needed to quantify those impacts, Capik said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture is providing $465,000 in funding for a four-year study: “Impact of Management Decisions During the Cow-Calf, Backgrounding, and Feedlot Phases of Beef Production on BRD Morbidity and Mortality Risks.”

Capik will lead the group of scientists in research to determine what effect certain management practices used at different phases of beef production can have on BRD. The project is a collaboration between three institutions that takes advantage of their respective strengths.

Joining her on the team are Brad White, D.V.M., Robert Larson, D.V.M./Ph.D., and David Amrine, D.V.M./Ph.D., with Kansas State University, and Amelia Woolums, D.V.M./Ph.D.; Jane Parish, Ph.D.; and Brandi Karisch, Ph.D., with Mississippi State University.

Measuring management impacts

The team has three objectives:

– Quantifying vaccination impact during preweaning on BRD risk during backgrounding and performance during preweaning.
– Comparing the impact of marketing strategy on BRD risk and performance during backgrounding.
– Exploring whether pen- and yard-level management factors are related to health outcomes at the feedlot.

They also will take samples at key time points to evaluate whether inflammatory mediators can be used to predict health or performance.

“Our project will study whether vaccinations prior to weaning, as well as whether how the calf is marketed after weaning, have an effect on the risk of a calf becoming sick or dying from BRD,” she said. “We expect calves sent directly to a backgrounding facility will experience fewer BRD-related events than those going through marketing avenues where they are commingled with other cattle and their arrival at the next facility is delayed.”

Mississippi State and Texas A&M will be primarily responsible for the first two objectives, coordinating to use calves born at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station’s Prairie Research Unit and then, once weaned, sending them to the Texas A&M AgriLife Research feedlot in Bushland for the remainder of the project.

The Kansas State team will lend their expertise to the work done in the first two objectives and also explore how various management practices in the feedlot – animal density, flow and exposure – affect BRD risk while cattle are in the feed yard using a database of feedlot records to evaluate relevant associations.

Reducing BRD

“Ultimately, the goal is to identify ways to decrease the incidence of BRD,” Capik said. “Less BRD and healthier cattle mean less need for antimicrobials to treat sick cattle and more sustainable beef production.”

This project is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 2019-67015-29845 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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