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Professional Version

Economic Impact of Disease


W. Mark Hilton

, DVM, DABVP, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University

Reviewed/Revised Apr 2014 | Modified Oct 2022

Disease may cause economic loss in feedlots through mortality, treatment cost, or effects on productivity. The impact of clinical and subclinical disease on production efficiency and economic returns may be greater than the losses associated with mortality. A thorough understanding of the impact of disease on animal performance and economic loss is essential to make cost-effective recommendations to feedlot managers. The costs associated with death loss, chronically ill cattle marketed prematurely at a discount, and treatment are obvious and easy to calculate. Hidden costs, such as reduced performance and lower carcass quality, are often overlooked.

Treatment costs are another source of economic loss. Factors influencing the average cost include the morbidity rate, retreatment rate, cost of the drug(s), combination versus single antimicrobial therapy, whether adjunct therapy is used, labor, and feedlot markup on the products used. The morbidity rate has the strongest influence on the average treatment cost for all cattle in the pen. When metaphylaxis is used to manage bovine respiratory tract disease, it must be added to the total medical cost for the pen.

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