Receiving and managing high-risk, unweaned, nonvaccinated calves is a challenge that some producers use to their advantage. These "starter yards" take the discounts that this class of cattle receives at market and upgrade the calves to a better class of cattle. One of the most underutilized tools in these operations, unfortunately, is record keeping and data analysis.
At times, there is more art than science involved in keeping cattle healthy and finding sick animals that need to be treated. If pen riders wait for outright signs of bovine respiratory disease—rapid breathing, foaming mouth, nasal discharge and lethargy—the animals are often beyond successful treatment.
The key is to pick out animals at the earliest onset of disease, a difficult task in a pen of calves that is not bunk broke and unsettled due to not being weaned. Records give us a data set to go back to and evaluate how well we did on a set of calves or during a season.
All treatment records should be kept so the producer knows exactly when a calf was treated and with what product. We enforce a post-treatment moratorium on antibiotic injections, so it is important to know the day of treatment and when calves are eligible to be treated again. Most of the time, treated calves go back into the home pen unmarked. I prefer to not mark them, as this can affect how a person identifies and decides to treat a sick calf.
Instead, we write down ID numbers unbiased by previous knowledge and check records for eligibility. Records also help create trigger points so we know when to be more aggressive, such as when to mass treat a pen.
At the end of the feeding period, we look at morbidity, mortality, treatment failure, retreatment rate, days on feed at treatment, etc. It is not always about how many cattle were treated. In a pen with a high percentage of the animals treated, we look at the percentage of animals that responded as well as the percentage that was re-treated.