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Herd Health Issues


Herd Health Management

  • A good herd health program is essential to any operation
  • Provides for healthier, better performing cattle
  • Helps insure you are producing a safe, wholesome product
  • Good herd health provides economic savings
  • Decreased respiratory illness increases profitability and carcass quality

A high quality herd health program is essential to any cattle operation. Having a good herd health program will decrease the number of sick cattle in most operations, and generally healthy cattle are better performing cattle.

A good herd health management program will also encourage the production of safe, healthy and wholesome products. A good herd health program reduces the incidence of sickness and reduces treatment costs.

Studies have shown that cattle in the feedlot diagnosed with respiratory illness will produce a carcass with a lower quality grade. Typically sick cattle are less profitable than healthy cattle because of increased treatment costs and the decreased value of their carcass.


Recommended Practices for Improving Herd Health

Recommended practices for Improving Herd Health include:

  • A clean environment
  • Adequate nutrition program
  • Good reproduction (A.I. and Calving) practices
  • Quality vaccination management
  • Keeping records

Good herd health practices include a clean environment. A clean, well-drained calving area with facilities to cope with calving problems is useful. Cattle will perform better and will also be healthier overall if feeding and watering areas are free of mud, excess manure and standing water. Minimizing these stress factors will decrease the spread of disease, infection, and parasites.

Your nutrition program determines the health and the ability of your cattle to perform. Cows and heifers should have access to a good quality diet, particularly when they are lactating. Females should be in good condition (Body Condition Score of 5 or greater), at calving time. In addition, mineral should be supplemented based on nutrient composition of the forages available. Feeders and troughs should be free of moldy and/or stale feed, and feedstuffs should be checked for nitrates, mycotoxins, and nutrient composition. If medicated feed is fed, withdrawal times must be adhered to.

Proper reproductive management is essential to prevent the spread of reproductive diseases and infections. Plastic sleeves should be used when artificially inseminating cows or assisting with calving. Watch cows after calving for retained placentas and treat all uterine, vaginal, and udder infections according to veterinarian recommendations. Retain cull animals long enough to meet withdrawal times of any drugs given.

Maintaining a good set of records is essential to the efficiency of any operation. To keep a good set of records, cows need to individually identified. Tag and record all calving information at birth. Producers need to be able to inform potential buyers when vaccinations and other management practices were performed.

Your Veterinarian's Role in Herd Health

  • Veterinarians play an important role in preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases.
  • Definition of Valid Veterinary/Client/Patient Relationship (VCPR)

Your veterinarian plays an important role in preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases. Selecting the right treatment and prevention plan depends on accurately diagnosing the problem. Work with your local veterinarian to develop a healthcare program designed to fit your operations needs. It is essential to develop a valid veterinarian/client/patient relationship (VCPR).

The American Veterinary Medical Association defines a VCPR as:

"An appropriate veterinarian/client/patient relationship will exist when (1) the veterinarian has assumed the responsibility for making medical judgments regarding the health of the animal(s) and the need for medical treatment, and the client (owner or caretaker) has agreed to follow the instructions of the veterinarian; and when (2) there is sufficient knowledge of the animal(s) by the veterinarian to initiate at least a general or preliminary diagnosis of the medical condition of the animal(s). This means that the veterinarian has recently seen and is personally acquainted with the keeping and care of the animal(s), and/or by medically appropriate and timely visits to the premises where the animal(s) are kept; and when (3) the practicing veterinarian is readily available for follow-up in case of adverse reactions or failure of regimen of therapy."

Extra-Label Drug Use

  • What is "extra label" drug use?
  • Off-label drug use requires a veterinarian's prescription
  • FDA criteria for off-label drug use

Exactly what is extra-label or off-label drug use? Extra-label drug use is using animal health products in a manner not specified on the label. Examples include using a product at higher doses or in different species than stated on the label. A veterinarian's prescription is needed for extra-label drug use.

For a drug to be administered in an extra-label manner, the following criteria set by the Food and Drug Administration must be met. The veterinarian must make a careful medical diagnosis within the context of a valid veterinarian-client relationship. The veterinarian takes responsibility for making judgments regarding the health of an animal, and the client agrees to follow his or her instructions. The veterinarian must have sufficient knowledge of the animal, through recent personal visits to the premises, to make a diagnosis, and be readily available for follow-up care or consultation. The veterinarian must determine that there is no marketed drug specifically labeled to treat the condition diagnosed, or that treatment at the recommended dosage would not be effective. A record of any animal given extra-label treatment must be maintained. The withdrawal time prior to marketing an animal that has been treated off-label must be significantly extended, as determined by the veterinarian. Extra-label drug use is not appropriate for production purposes, such as increasing feed efficiency or milk production. Use in animal feeds is prohibited. Finally, the FDA requires the prescribed drug be labeled with the name and address of the veterinarian, name of the drug or its ingredients, directions for use, cautionary statements and specified withdrawal time.

Some drugs are not currently approved for use in food-producing animals, even under the extra-label criteria. The Animal Medicinal Drug Usage Clarification Act (AMDUCA) provides that the FDA may prohibit an extra-label drug use in animals if the agency finds that such use presents a risk to the public health. Your veterinarian should be aware of current changes to the list of non-approved products.

The current list of drugs includes:

  • Chloramphenicol
  • Clenbuterol
  • Diethylstilbestrol
  • Dimetridazole
  • Ipronidazole
  • Other nitroimidazoles
  • Furzolidone (except for topical use)
  • Nitrofurazone (except for topical use)
  • Sulfonamide drugs in lactating dairy cattle
  • Fluroquinolones
  • Glycopeptides

Understanding Drug Labels

  • Information that must be on all drug labels
  • Information that must be on prescription (Rx) drug labels
  • Drugs used in an "extra-label" manner
  • Instructions to look for and follow on each label

All drugs, whether over the counter (OTC) or prescription (Rx), must contain the following information on the label: name of the drug; active ingredients; instructions for use; withdrawal times; quantity of contents; name of distributor, lot number and expiration date.

Prescription drugs not only must have the name of the drug, active ingredients, instructions for use, withdrawal times, quantity of contents, and name of distributor, but must also include name and address of the dispensing veterinarian, not just the veterinary clinic; the statement "CAUTION: Federal law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian"; directions for use; prescribed withdrawal times, even if zero; and any other cautionary statements.

Drugs to be used in an "extra-label" manner require additional caution. They often have special instructions because they are prescribed for a particular animal or particular herd by a veterinarian who is familiar with the animal or herd. Labels for drugs used in an "extra-label" manner must have these components: name, address, and phone number of the veterinarian who prescribed the drug; active ingredients, indications and directions for use; prescribed withdrawal time before slaughter; any cautionary statements; and exact directions for use.

To reduce the chance of reactions and minimize the risk of residues, check and follow these instructions on each label: dosage; timing; route of administration; warnings or indications (for example, "not for use in pregnant animals"); withdrawal times if any; storage; disposal; and shelf life or expiration date.

Changing the dosage of a drug or route of administration may greatly affect withdrawal times. All "off-label" or "extra-label" drug use should be done in a veterinarian/client/patient relationship.

Examples of Label Types

Click below to view a PDF version of this label



Click below to view a PDF version of this label



Biologicals and Pharmaceuticals

  • Are they the same?
  • Biologicals are generally made up of bacterins and vaccines
  • Pharmaceuticals are medicinals

Biologicals and pharmaceuticals are NOT the same. Biologicals and pharmaceuticals are two terms often used when referring to products used in the health care of cattle, and often confused with each other.

Biologicals are generally made up of bacterins and vaccines. A vaccine is a suspension of attenuated or killed microorganisms, or the antigenic proteins derived from them. There are two categories of vaccines, killed and modified-live. A killed vaccine is just that, killed. No self-replicating microorganisms are present in the suspension. Modified live vaccines contain microorganisms which have been attenuated (weakened) through culturing and laboratory procedures.

Pharmaceuticals are medicinal drugs. They contain no live or killed microorganisms. Antibiotics are pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals are used to treat a variety of health-related conditions. Virtually every pharmaceutical product has a withdrawal period associated with its use.


  • Clostridial diseases
  • Bacterial respiratory diseases
  • Viral respiratory diseases

The most common diseases in feeder cattle in North Dakota are clostridial diseases and bacterial and viral respiratory diseases.

Clostridial diseases are caused by gram positive bacteria belonging to the genus Clostridia. These diseases include blackleg, tetanus, gas gangrene, overeating disease, and others. Clostridia DO NOT cause respiratory diseases or pneumonia.

Pasteurella multocida, Pasteurella hemolytica, and Hemophilus somnus are bacteria that cause respiratory disease. Bacterins for these diseases are available, and antibiotics are effective against these disease-causing bacteria.

IBR, PI3, BVD, and BRSV are viruses that can cause respiratory disease in cattle. Both killed and modified-live vaccines are available for these viruses. Because these disease-causing microorganisms are viruses, antibiotics are NOT effective against them.


  • What is Biosecurity?
  • Why is biosecurity important?
  • What should on the farm biosecurity consist of?

What is biosecurity?
Biosecurity is a set of management practices that prevent infectious diseases from being carried into a herd. These infectious diseases include: New strains of infectious diseases such as Type II Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) and new diseases such as hairy heal wart and neospora species which cause abortions, and old diseases like Johnes Disease, Leukosis, and Tuberculosis.

The goal of all biosecurity programs is to break the disease transmission cycle!

Why is biosecurity important?
Biosecurity is important for several reasons including decreased disease transmission, prevention of death loss, prevention of production losses (weight gain and milk production), improved cost of production and prevention of premature culling of animals. Further biosecurity is critical to global trade, food safety, and antibiotic resistance.

What should on the farm biosecurity consist of?
On the farm biosecurity should consist of: good sanitation, isolation and acclimation of new animals, disease testing and monitoring, vaccination and good recording keeping. Good sanitation sounds very simple but is often in need of improvement. Practices of good sanitation include cleaning barns and feedlots frequently and cleaning calving barns and lots early in the year. When guests and visitors come to the operation, supply them with clean boots and clothing. Further make use of the natural disinfectants we have. These include sunshine (Ultraviolet light), heat, dryness, low humidity and air. And, clean manure-handling equipment before using it for feed handling equipment.

Isolation and acclimation is a crucial biosecurity practice to implement when bringing new animals to your operation. When bringing in new animals, be sure to isolate them for at least 2 weeks. This period of isolation will allow for revaccination and observation for other conditions.

Acclimation is an important practice to use when bringing new animals to the operation. Chances are your animals have a different strain or subtype of many common infections than the animal you are bringing in do, and vice versa.

Be sure to always protect yourself, your operation, and livestock. The easiest way to do this is to ask for health and vaccination records for newly purchased, leased, and borrowed animals.

If the newly introduced animals don't have health records treat them as "naive" and preventatively vaccinate them as you would your own herd.

When dealing with sick animals within the herd, isolate and separate the animals with an infectious agent. Move and separate the sick animals from the "healthy herd" into a "sick pen." When the sick animals are well, move them into a "convalescent pen," not back into the healthy herd. In the case of sickness in calving lots and barns, at "spring turn out" reunite with the "healthy herd." This is especially crucial when keeping livestock in a confinement situation such as a feedlot or calving pens and barns.

Disease testing and monitoring can be useful in decreasing the risk of disease entry into the herd. However, in consultation with your veterinarian, the test utilized needs to be evaluated. Most tests are not 100% accurate. This is because there is usually a percentage of false negatives and positives due to the sensitivity and specificity of the tests. Scientific tests should be used to diagnose the cause of death. As the saying goes, "If you don't look, you don't know!" It is easy to say that animals are free from disease unless they are tested. Many diseases can infect animals sub-clinically, meaning they can be shedding disease, but don't show signs of infection or illness. It is important to reiterate that consultation with your veterinarian is imperative regarding which diseases to test for and which tests to use.

Preventative vaccinations are good "herd protection" tools. Many vaccinations have a high efficacy rate against infectious agents. As stated previously, when introducing new animals that don't have a health record, treat those as naive and preventatively vaccinate as you normally would your current herd. Remember to booster the preventative vaccinations, if so labeled by the product you are using. When considering which preventative vaccinations and treatments to give, consult with your veterinarian about current animal health issues in your area. It is imperative to remember that vaccinations are only tools, not 100%, and can be overrun by stress, poor nutrition, and overwhelming disease burden by bacteria viruses, and other agents (known as "antigen-antibody overload").

Good records are essential to good on the farm biosecurity. Good records should include vaccination history, herd health records, herd inventory, and purchase and sale records. Additionally all animals should be individually identified.

In conclusion, good on the farm biosecurity is a set of management diseases from being carried into a herd. Good biosecurity doesn't have to be fancy or expensive to be effective, but most importantly easily and continually implemented and maintained.