Three Cattle Handling Tips that Can Help Curb BRD

Small improvements can lead to big changes

Bovine respiratory disease is one of the most deadly diseases affecting today's cattle herds. Some producers know it as shipping fever, and others simply refer to it as pneumonia. But regardless of the vernacular, the disease itself doesn't discriminate – all cattle under stress are susceptible.

Thankfully, simple steps in proper cattle handling can be taken to minimize the stress cattle endure on a daily basis. Though they're not the end-all-be-all of BRD prevention techniques, incorporating these three practices into an operation can prove highly beneficial in helping to curb BRD.

1. Stop the Yelling

According to Tony Moravec, DVM, Merial Large Animal Veterinary Services, stress can cause the immune system in an animal to work less efficiently, and even suppress the immune altogether.1 Because of this, he says, a loud-yelling producer will cause significant and unnecessary stress, and cattle will likely use most of their energy running away from the offending source.

"When a producer yells, the animal's survival mechanism launches into high gear, while the immune system can fall into neutral," Moravec says. "Viruses and bacteria present in the body can then become an established infection in vulnerable areas like the lungs."2

2. Focus on Body Position

While some vocalization can prove valuable, using physical cues that cattle can visually recognize may be even more impactful. In general, a producer can easily move cattle by using the herd's natural pressure point. Moravec says that with practice and patience, many movements can be completed without uttering a single word.

For example, to move an animal forward toward a pen on your right, follow them on their right side – the same side as the destination. As you approach the pen gate, the cattle will instinctively turn in when the opening presents itself.

3. Commit to Positivity

Dr. Tom Noffsinger, a highly respected veterinarian leading the charge in low-stress animal care, insists that producers are the catalysts to proper herd handling. Facilities play a role, he says, but the job can't get done without producers who are devoted to improving their own techniques each and every day.

The benefits reaped from a positive attitude can be two-fold.

"If our caregivers and producers are dedicated to making every interaction with cattle a positive event for both people and animals, all of a sudden we see different levels of immune function,"1 Noffsinger says.

And lower stress on cattle can lead to lower stress on the producer.

This is certainly not a complete guide to cattle handling. Veterinarians and producers have spent years studying, practicing and perfecting cattle handling techniques, and these tips are simply building blocks that can lead to more elaborate and expansive ideas.

For a deeper dive into cattle handling, Dr. Noffsinger has created numerous training modules to help educate producers on animal welfare. Register here to view his available offerings.

And to learn more about BRD and other topics concerning herd health, visit the Tips page of the SUREHEALTH website.


About Merial

Merial is a world-leading, innovation-driven animal health company, providing a comprehensive range of products that focus on disease prevention and overall health and wellness in animals. Merial has three main business areas: pets, farm animals, and veterinary public health, and our health solutions target more than 200 diseases and conditions across a variety of species. Merial employs 6,900 people and operates in more than 150 countries worldwide with over €2.5 billion of sales in 2015. Merial is a Sanofi company. For more information, please see; @Merial


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1Cooke R. Overview of the Cattle Immune System. Oregon State University Beef Cattle Library BEEF043. 2010;1-5.

2Hodgson PD, Aich P, Manuja A, Hokamp K, Roche FM, Brinkman FSL, Potter A, Babiuk LA, Griebel PJ. Effect of Stress on Viral-Bacterial Synergy in Bovine Respiratory Disease: Novel Mechanisms to Regulate Inflammation. Comp Funct Genomics. 2005;6:244-250.