Cattle face health risks when kept in feedlots too long

The trouble with holding fat cattle in feedlots, aside from the obvious cash flow issues, is the increased risk to animal health.

Reduced processing rates at packing plants are forcing feedlot operators to retain fat cattle until there’s available capacity. Changing diets from finishing to maintenance rations and the simple fact of holding cattle longer can create health issues that operators need to manage.

“Anytime we have those diet changes happening, there’s the possibility for metabolic disruptions or metabolic diseases, whether its bloat or overload,” said Dr. Calvin Booker, a veterinarian and managing partner with Feedlot Health Management Services.

“That’s one that everybody will need to watch out for, especially as we’re switching diets back and forth.”

Foot problems can also increase as cattle are kept longer on grain diets, he added. Laminitis incidents can increase not just because of diet but also because of pen conditions.

“If you think about that, normally as cattle are sold and marketed that gives the feedlot an opportunity to potentially clean the pen and also to potentially do what we call pen maintenance,” said Booker.

If the pens remain full, it’s not as convenient to clean them, adding to the risk of foot problems and injury. As well, if the animals need to be handled for vaccination, for example, their increased size can be an issue.

Though most feedlot operations post-BSE incorporated larger handling facilities, animal size must be considered.

“If you’re used to running 1,000 pound animals and now you’re running 1,400 lb. animals through the chute, that takes a bigger facility and it takes a little bit different approach,” Booker said.

In times past, feedlots tended to carry lower inventories in summer after a busy shipping season in spring to accommodate higher beef demand. More recently they’ve evolved to remain full year-round. Inability to market cattle this spring, at high season, has created a serious backlog problem.

Feedlot operators that do usually reduce numbers in summer have to consider water requirements if they’re now having to retain animals.

“You’ve got much bigger animals and their water requirements are much higher because they’re bigger and because it’s hotter,” said Booker. “You may not have planned for that water capacity.”

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