DIRECT improvement in reduced animal health issues, better weightgain in feeder cattle and reduced use of antibiotics are among the key benefits achieved from a NSW feedlot’s adoption this year of an incentive-driven pre-vaccination program to protect against Bovine Respiratory Disease.
Speaking during a property visit as part of this month’s SmartBeef feedlot conference in Armidale, Elders Killara feedlot livestock trading manager Andrew Talbot provided a testimonial over his yard’s recent experiences with pre-vaccination.
Killara is located near Quirindi in northern NSW, and feeds up to 20,000 head of mostly British type cattle sourced from across NSW and northern Victoria at any one time.
“We had a half-baked approach to using pre-vaccination some years ago, but it didn’t really work that well, because we only ended up with 20 or 30 percent of the cattle in the yard that were treated,” Mr Talbot said.
“We had some challenges at the time with deteriorating seasonal conditions, and it meant producers weren’t happy to pre-vaccinate and put the cattle back in the paddock for 21 days before delivery.”
“However given the number of cattle we are feeding at Killara, and the health problems we were having at times, we felt we needed to do something – not only for financial reasons, but dead cattle in a feedlot is not a good look,” he said.
“We needed to get ahead of it and not bury our head in the sand.”
As a result, earlier this year, Killara ‘went public’ and created an incentive for its producer suppliers to engage in pre-vaccination of feeder cattle heading for the yard.
“The signal we picked up from cattle suppliers was that they wanted us to go hard: they wanted to deliver cattle with a guaranteed one-shot, and they wanted a financial premium for it,” Mr Talbot said.
Killara’s offer – $15 for a single shot of Bovilis MH+IBR, and $30 for two shots completed within prescribed pre-induction timeframes – was launched at a supplier night five month ago.
“Since then, we have gone pretty hard on no pre-vax, no delivery,” Mr Talbot said. “It’s meant that in recent times, almost 100 percent of our cattle on feed are vaccinated.”
Big shift in mortality, ADG performance
And what has it meant for Killara’s business performance?
The yard turns over around 60,000 cattle each year, and feedlot mortality rate historically has been around 1pc. However this year, with less than six months of the new vaccination program in place, mortalities are already down to 0.5pc.
“We’ve lost nearly 200 less cattle in the feedlot this year than last year, with 5000 head of cattle more on feed,” Mr Talbot said.
Additionally, average daily gain this year is 0.1kg/day better than in 2016.
“We’re not doing this just to be good citizens in the beef industry – there’s a financial reason behind it,” Mr Talbot told the recent SmartBeef field day audience.
“We’re increasingly of the view that the way to deal with problems like respiratory disease in the feedlot is not after the event, with more drugs. Many of the issues faced by our feedlot, and others, are controllable – but you’ve got to be hard about it and committed, and send a financial message to suppliers. That’s what we’ve tried to do this year, and in our case we think it has paid off.”
Such a program was not without its challenges in managing cattle during deteriorating seasonal conditions, but Killara encourages suppliers to try to incorporate vaccination into their routine management practices on farm, at weaning, for example, rather than bringing cattle in especially to vaccinate.
- See this morning’s separate story: “Feeder cattle pre-vaccination programs gaining momentum”