Common Feedlot Problems Other Than Pneumonia

Over the years conditions seen at the feedlot have changed along with the method of treatment many operators are using. This article will review some of the common conditions seen where veterinary intervention is necessary and the common management practices to avoid or prevent them. With labour a precious commodity especially in the feedlot, labour-intensive practices need to be reduced wherever possible.

If you are feeding heifers the dreaded calving of a fat heifer can be a recipe for disaster. Usually the calf is dead or non-viable and the heifer’s life is at risk. On top of that is a large veterinary bill. The most economical solution is to have your veterinarian preg check the heifers at first implanting and abort any pregnant ones at that time.

Some feedlot veterinarians give shots to the whole pen rather than preg check but in my experience the pregnancy rate in a feeder pen of heifers is seldom that high. The negative in treating the whole pen is the cost of the drugs, the potential loss in beef quality (you are giving a lot of shots into muscles unnecessarily) and you do synchronize the rest of the heifers so you get lots of cycling behaviour. By checking you can identify which ones are pregnant and watch them more closely plus if they are further along the veterinarian will usually advise giving two shots (a prostaglandin and dexamethasone). This avoids the calving issues, C-sections, hard pulls, downers, retained placentas and all the problems that often occur right as the heifers are ready to be shipped.

If prolapsed rectums or vaginas are showing up in increasing numbers this may be due to excessive riding which in turn could be caused by improper implanting technique, a coccidiosis outbreak, or several other possibilities. It’s important to ask your veterinarian about these other causes when he/she is correcting the problem.

Vaginal prolapses can be sutured in such a way that the suture can be left in indefinitely preventing a reoccurrence. You will always encounter a few of these in the feedlot regardless of how good your management but early detection and treatment will minimize the complications.

Abscesses and other lumps and bumps are common results from processing injuries, the use of dirty needles and excessive riding. Again, if the incidence increases analyze your processing protocol. Lumps should be checked by inserting a sterile (new) needle over a cleaned-up area. If pus is present lance and flush the abscess. Clear fluid indicates a bruise so leave it to resolve on its own. If you are uncomfortable doing this, or if the abscess is in a vital area like the jugular vein it is better to leave this job for your veterinarian. Smaller abscesses that remain the same size can be left as they are only a blemish and will simply be trimmed out at slaughter.

Waterbellys with either urine collecting in the abdomen as is the case of a ruptured bladder or urine collecting around the sheath and underbelly with a ruptured urethra pose a guarded prognosis even with surgery. Surgery involves bringing the penis out the back end (perineal urethrostomy). If the steer is found before he is too sick, surgery may be advisable. Fortunately these are rare events in most western Canadian feedlots.

Riding poses its share of complications from bruising along the back to disruption in pen dynamics if staggy animals are present. I would suggest castrating or at least removing any intact bulls you detect in the feedlot. Often the true sweetasses should live out their days in the chronic pen as each time they are returned to their home pen riding often ensues. If too much riding is a problem check out your implanting technique, pen design and strategies for mixing cattle.

Lameness can occur sporadically or in an outbreak of cases, much like in a cow-calf operation. One must first decide if the lameness is due to injury and infection, since many injuries, sprains or strains heal up on their own without any treatment. Too many arthritic conditions become long-term issues and prevention by vaccination for Histophilus and BVD can go a long way to keeping these problems in check. Treat each lame animal as an individual case as the causes and treatments to correct them are extremely varied. To my mind following a single protocol for treating lame animals does not cut it.

Digestive upsets are rarer these days with proper feeding practices and the use of ionophores like Rumensin. Acidotic (overloaded cattle) are weak, have diarrhea and will look dehydrated and go down. Reintroduction from the hospital pen back to the home pen and mix-ups in feeding are common causes of this condition. Develop a protocol with your herd veterinarian on specific antacids and fluid therapy. These animals can be butchered if no medication has been used so don’t get overzealous with the use of antibiotics.

When processing cattle adhere to beef quality assurance protocols. Select the right needle size and recognize proper meat withdrawal times for the products you are using.

Many conditions are not caused by pneumonia so don’t always assume that it is the likely cause. Conditions already mentioned above as well as peritonitis, necrotic laryngitis and kidney infections have different clinical signs than pneumonia and require different treatment, or in some cases none at all.

Develop protocols for all the conditions seen at your feedlot including clinical signs and courses of action. This will yield a better recovery rate, save some dollars on medical costs or labour and allow cattle to be shipped before drugs are administered.

Dr. Lewis is a large animal practitioner based in Weslock, Alta.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



Stories from our other publications