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How Sick Are They?

01:43AM Aug 31, 2014
FJ BT14 B14036
Fall is here, and with it comes the fall run of cattle to feedlots across the country. Many of the cattle that come in are, unfortunately, from a long distance away, with questionable weaning and vaccination status. Starting this class of high-risk cattle can be a hard job at times. Even with several new technologies and products available to us, we still see a high number of sick cattle in the receiving pen. 

One of the major issues I address with producers is a way to quantify how sick a pen or individual calf is. A helpful system that we implemented is a clinical illness score (CIS) system. This numerical system allows a producer to quantify a calf at the chute and also gives us a means of retrospectively evaluating a pen of calves. 

The system I use consists of a CIS scale of 1 to 4. 
1: A calf that is questionably lethargic. He will be individually identified by the pen rider and evaluated again later that same day or the next morning. 

2: A calf that—while not obviously ill—is, in the pen rider’s mind, worth taking a trip to the chute to be evaluated further. 

3: A calf that is obviously ill and needs treatment.

4: A calf that is moribound and needs to be removed from the pen immediately to go to a hospital or be humanely euthanized. 

Treatment standards. To further evaluate these animals, a rectal temperature is taken. Although I am not a believer in temperature being the holy grail of diagnostics, I think it can have its place. Keep in mind that on a normal Midwest July day all the cattle will have temperatures above 104°F! 

Within this system, I use temperature to help determine the status of my CIS 2 class of cattle. A CIS 2 has to have a temperature of 103.5°F to receive treatment. Work with your veterinarian to set this parameter, as it may change seasonally or in the face of an outbreak. To clarify, a CIS 2 with a temperature of 101°F would not be treated; a CIS 2 with 105°F would be. A CIS 3 is treated regardless of temperature. A variation of this would be to lower the class of antibiotic given to CIS 2 animals that are below the temperature cut off. 

Although there is nothing magical about this system, it gives a more objective assessment for pen riders. Research reveals there is poor agreement between pen riders on what qualifies an animal’s need for treatment. About 60% of cattle called sick are agreed upon. 

Of the cattle that are called sick, only about 60% are really ill, and, of those, only about 60% are identified. In short, we are not very good at determining if a calf is ill, and there is no gold standard to determine if you were right or wrong. 

Think about this example: a calf is called sick and treated, and the next day looks normal. Was this a treatment success or a misdiagnosis because the calf was never ill? I encourage everyone to keep a treatment log and have a column for CIS. Use the systematic approach and see if it helps to more objectively treat sick cattle.