Hospital pens house cattle that are sick, infirm or chronically ill. These enclosures play a vital role in managing the health of feedlot animals. Their proper operation begins with a proper assessment of conditions in these pen.
Benefits from properly run hospital pens
Ensures animal comfort.
Reduces treatment costs by avoiding extended treatment.
Salvages cattle when possible.
Assists in the management of sick cattle and reduces the number of chronics, suspects shipped with drug residues and condemnations.
Good hospital-pen assessment avoids overloading of sick pens and can result in less spread of infections, contagious agents, and thus reduce drug costs.
A well-managed hospital pen can raise employee morale, by avoiding frustrations in dealing with sick cattle during a busy season.
Recommended operating procedures:
Develop a protocol for moving treated cattle from the hospital area to sick pens, recovery pens and back to their home pens.
Do not overcrowd sick pens. Leave 150 to 200 square feet per animal.
Hospital pens should provide shelter, abundant bedding, clean water and free-choice, fresh, palatable feed (with access to trace minerals and supplements) including roughage.
Keep pens clean and dry.
If finances allow, plan for separate hospital areas in each sector of feeding pens. This will reduce the risk of exposure to healthy animals, and cross contamination of infectious agents among different groups of cattle. Manage sick pens to reduce this risk. In the case of large feedlots multiple hospital areas shorten the distance you have to move sick cattle to get them treated. To avoid the risk of cross contamination create a separate sick treating facility away from your processing facility.
Consider isolation facilities for highly infectious animals to keep them away from other sick or healthy animals. An isolation pen would handle cattle that come down with foot rot, coccidiosis, salmonellosis, chronic mucosal disease (BVD) and other infectious conditions.
Record all transfers of cattle from home pens to sick pen, recovery pen, chronic pen or as deads on your treatment records.
Monitor sick pens closely for moribund (near death) animals and non-ambulatory animals ( i. e. cases of polyarthritis, nervous disease). Provide ample bedding and shelter for non-ambulatory animals. Reposition these animals and bring feed/water to them. During cold weather monitor regularly for signs of frostbite, especially in the extremities.
Assess cattle within recovery pens at least weekly to determine if they can return to the home pen. The other choices are retreatment, more time in the recovery pen, move to the chronic pen, euthanize or salvage slaughter.
Assess chronic pens weekly or more often and determine what needs to be done next. Track the number of chronics and develop a plan to keep the number from becoming excessive.
Remove dead animals as soon as possible.
Create a euthanasia policy for non-ambulatory or moribund animals.
Keep sick, chronic and non-ambulatory pens away from public roads where cattle can be easily observed by the public.
House bullers separately from chronic and sick animals. Record the incidence of bullers and develop a plan for dealing with large numbers of these animals.
Use discretion when handling sick cattle. Prods and/or dogs are likely not necessary or appropriate in these situations.
Develop a protocol for shipping chronic culls for salvage slaughter to a licensed abattoir. Monitor drug withdrawals carefully and ship suspect animals once they are drug free. Should there be any question about withdrawal periods being met, your veterinarian will evaluate your treatment record against information provided by FARAD (the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank). Residue screening shall be performed under the supervision of a veterinarian. The results of such testing will determine the appropriateness of releasing the cattle for shipment. Do not ship non-ambulatory cattle; send them to emergency slaughter or euthanize them at the feedlot.
Collect information from packers on the disposition of culls and adjust your culling procedures accordingly.
Key problem indicators
Hospital pens overcrowded.
Hospital pens dirty.
Hospital pens have no bedding or shelter.
Feed bunks are empty or have stale feed in them.
Waterers are dirty or frozen.
Non-ambulatory cattle are not moved or dealt with appropriately within one day.
The Quality Starts Here (QSH) manual of recommended operating procedures (ROP) for feedlot animal health offers feedlot managers advice on operating hospital pens.