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Professional Version

Overview of Preventative Health Care and Husbandry of Beef Cattle


Jason Smith

, PhD, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Department of Animal Science

Reviewed/Revised Jul 2023

Several beef cattle management practices are capable of increasing enterprise profitability through increasing animal productivity, enhancing animal value, and/or decreasing cost of production. Animal disease results in economic loss through mortality, treatment expenses, and lost performance or productivity. An understanding of the economic impact of both clinical and subclinical diseases is important to developing a strategic herd health management program.

Although the costs associated with death loss, with cattle that are culled or "railed" (marketed prematurely), and with direct treatment expenses are easy to calculate, the hidden or indirect costs of disease, such as decreased performance and productivity or impaired development, are much more difficult to estimate. Management decisions generally impact animal health through influencing susceptibility or resiliency to health challenges, or through influencing the frequency and magnitude of exposure to such challenges.

The primary objective of this chapter is to provide an overview of the interaction between management and health of beef cattle, with a focus on major factors that influence health outcomes and the management practices that promote overall animal health and prevent the development of disease. In the context of this chapter, "management" is considered to be any procedure or practice that can be adopted by the operation or applied to an individual animal or to groups of animals.

Both preventive and responsive herd health management programs are critical to promoting animal health and minimizing the risk of major adverse health events at the individual or herd levels. Having a valid, documented relationship (often referred to as a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, or VCPR) with a veterinarian is a critically important first step toward developing a herd health management program that includes both preventive and responsive components.

The veterinarian should be a source of information to determine the components of the herd health management program and the methods that should be used to implement it. The knowledge and experiences of both the producer and the herd veterinarian, as well as perceived health risks to the operation, should be factored in. This should begin with a plan that is established, implemented, and modified over time to meet the evolving needs of the herd.

While herd health programs are not one-size-fits-all, there are certain essential components of a herd health management program, regardless of geography, production goals, or cattle type. These include:

Each of these areas are discussed in detail within the topics of this chapter.

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