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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Beef Feedlots

By W. Mark Hilton, DVM, DABVP, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University

In beef feedlots, young growing cattle are fed a high-energy diet to produce marketable beef at a low cost of gain. Depending on the starting body weight and age of the cattle, the period of feeding varies from 60 days to 12 mo. The success of a modern feedlot depends on excellent management, a favorable economic climate, and relative freedom from unfortunate events such as disease epidemics or unexpected increases in costs (eg, feed) or decreases in the price received for the final product. The concept of disease should include all of the identifiable factors that cause suboptimal performance: inadequacies in feeds and feeding systems, the purchase of undesirable types of cattle, and clinical and subclinical disease.

The feedlot veterinarian is responsible for maintaining optimal animal health through the following activities: 1) Making regularly scheduled visits to the feedlot. The frequency of visits depends on the size of the feedlot, the time of year, the expertise of the feedlot personnel, whether animals have recently arrived, and the degree to which the veterinarian is contractually responsible for the total animal health program. 2) Being available for emergency visits to the feedlot when disease epidemics are seen. 3) Performing necropsies during visits and training feedlot personnel to do necropsies at other times. 4) Examining sick animals to ensure that reasonably accurate diagnoses are being made and rational therapy is being given according to established treatment protocol. 5) Regularly examining, analyzing, and interpreting animal health and production data and making recommendations in a written report. The effectiveness of detection of sick animals, based on response and relapse rates and case fatality rates, should be determined, and the effectiveness of the processing program for new arrivals, which includes the vaccines used and the medications given, should be examined and analyzed regularly. 6) Selecting and prescribing all drugs used in the feedlot, giving specific advice about the use of drugs, and establishing a drug residue-avoidance program. 7) Discussing overall animal health and production performance with the feedlot manager and other consultants, setting animal health and production goals, and monitoring achievement. 8) Comparing the feedlot with other operations. The veterinarian should produce a monthly report that compares processing costs, treatment costs, and death loss by arrival weight and days on feed.

When the consulting veterinarian is not readily available, a local practitioner can serve as a valuable resource for the feedlot. Serving as part of the feedlot’s health care team, the local veterinarian can make significant contributions to the animal health program.