Green grass and rolling hills set the perfect scene for a stocker operation near Smiths Grove, Ky.

Mike Buttram of Buttram Farms has spent a lifetime there developing sound, healthy calves. Over the years, the family-owned operation has made distinct improvements in their daily activities — keeping the operation increasingly profitable and efficient.

One aspect of the operation Buttram has worked to improve while managing the farm is developing a solid on-arrival strategy. Because the first 21 days after arrival are critical, Buttram has tweaked his protocol to get calves off to a great start.

“Especially with the kind of cattle we buy — high-risk heifer calves that arrive unweaned, without vaccinations — we have to stay ahead of the eight ball and keep them from getting sick,” Buttram says. “They always say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the cattle business, the truth to that is 10-fold.”

For Buttram, his experience with heifer calves is much different than his previous work dealing with bull calves. Whether it is the added stressors associated with castration or just a different mentality, the success and profitability of his operation has improved since moving to all heifers.

 “Off the truck, our heifers generally weigh between 300 to 500 pounds and will gain 250 to 300 pounds in approximately four months before being sold,” Buttram says. “With calves that come in not always being fed as well as they could have been, our experience has been that heifers have required less attention than steers.”

With a steady flow of calves arriving weekly, Buttram noticed crowding made it difficult to keep health and death loss under control, which is typical for operations like his in dealing with bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

Death, reduced feed efficiency and treatment costs associated with BRD cost the cattle industry an estimated $1 billion each year.In an effortto reduce losses associated with BRD, Buttram has implemented the Blackjack BRD Management Strategy.

By using Draxxin (tulathromycin) Injectable Solution on-arrival for these high-risk calves followed by Excede (ceftiofur crystalline free acid) Sterile Suspension on any sick calves needing a follow-up treatment, Buttram ensures his cattle receive up to 21 days of therapy for BRD resulting in fewer total treatments and deaths, improved feed efficiency and improved return on investment.

“The commingling of calves from different herds and unknown vaccination history creates the perfect storm for BRD,” says Robin Falkner, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health Cattle Technical Services. “We are unable to use vaccinations alone to stop the disease, so convenient BRD control strategies like the Blackjack BRD Management Strategy help us to better manage the health of the animals.”

Can reduce amount of sickness

By using the most effective drug available for control, producers can easily reduce the amount of sickness, which is going to reduce the incidence of BRD, Dr. Falkner explains.

“Once an animal becomes sick, it can quickly become very expensive to get the calf back to full health. In one study, calves on the Blackjack strategy had significantly lower morbidity rates and medical costs for treatment related to all causes of BRD.

On-arrival, Buttram gives all calves Draxxin and Bovi-Shield GOLD 5. Calves treated with Draxxin on-arrival tend to start easily and do very well for the first 10 days, he says. If any sickness occurs after the initial arrival period, Buttram treats with Excede — a cost-effective, reliable treatment of bovine respiratory disease (BRD).4

Having a strategy in place when the cattle arrive is important for Buttram, because he knows getting a good start is critical to keeping the operation moving smoothly. 

“The heifers flow in and out really well and don’t get stuck in the starting facility,” Buttram says.

“We have fewer cattle going off feed and spending time in the hospital pens. As a result of the Blackjack BRD Management Strategy, we have seen a significant reduction in morbidity and mortality rates; and because healthy cattle eat better, we’ve seen improved feed efficiency and performance.”

Buttram often relies on body language when selecting which calves to pull for BRD, whether it’s a droopy head or one that isn’t eager to get to the feed trough.

He knows that executing a sound BRD control and treatment strategy that compliments the rest of his management system is essential to reducing the negative impact of BRD on cattle, people and profits. Draxxin and Excede implemented in the Blackjack BRD Management Strategy offer the perfect fit for his high-risk cattle.

“Early signs of BRD can be very difficult to detect, especially on recently weaned calves,” Dr. Falkner says. “Implementing the Blackjack Strategy on-arrival puts antimicrobial therapy to work right away. From there, we are able to get the animals through the weaning program, get them on feed and allow them to adjust to their new environment as quickly as possible.”

For Buttram, the answer is clear — the Blackjack strategy gives his calves the best opportunity to stay healthy and get on feed almost right off the truck.

 “The extra seven days of therapy really helps turn them around,” Buttram says. “If you can get them past the first 21 days, you are normally out of trouble and get them out to the pasture right away.”

Important Safety Information: Do not use in calves to be processed for veal. A pre-slaughter withdrawal time has not been determined for pre-ruminating calves. Effects on reproductive performance, pregnancy and lactation have not been determined. Draxxin has a pre-slaughter withdrawal time of 18 days.

Important Safety Information: As with all drugs, the use of Excede is contraindicated in animals with known allergy to ceftiofur or to the β-lactam group (penicillins and cephalosporins) of antimicrobials. Do not use Excede in horses intended for human consumption. The administration of antimicrobials in horses under conditions of stress may be associated with diarrhea, which may require appropriate veterinary therapy. Though safe in cattle when properly administered, inadvertent intra-arterial injection is possible and fatal. Excede has a pre-slaughter withdrawal time of 13 days in cattle. Do not use in calves to be processed for veal.