The consulting veterinarian on the feedyard management team: Objective measurements for subjective decisions (Proceedings)


The process of designing vaccination programs and cost-effective treatment regimens should be data driven and "custom built" for a particular feeding operation.

The objectives, or mission, of the consulting veterinarian include, but are not limited to

1. Design vaccination & cost-effective treatment programs, and then to:

a) monitor compliance by feedyard personnel and management to these programs, and

b) monitor animal performance, and therefore, performance of the prescribed health program

c) regularly monitor seasonal and population-specific cost-effectiveness of the prescribed program

2. Provide training and education to feedyard personnel in areas of timely detection of disease and assessment of severity, clinical diagnosis and treatment, selection of appropriate and cost-effective therapy, necropsy diagnosis, quality assurance compliance, hospital pen management, drug inventory management, and animal behavior and handling.

3. Convey and filter information presented to feedyard management and personnel by sales people, manufacturers of animal health and production products, and that found in the popular press.

4. Benchmark health performance and effectiveness of feedyard personnel compared to other feedyards in the database.

5. Serve as a sounding board for management as they explore decisions regarding personnel and animal health management.

6. Defray liability of management for custom cattle feeders.

Successful accomplishment of these objectives makes the consulting veterinarian and effective member of the feedyard management team. However, it must be understood that these objectives are continually adjusted for seasonal effects and population differences. The challenge for the consulting veterinarian is to "stay ahead of the curve" in areas of feedyard population dynamics, available technologies, and the current veterinary scientific literature.

Design vaccination programs and cost-effective treatment regimens

The process of designing vaccination programs and cost-effective treatment regimens should be data driven and "custom built" for a particular feeding operation. Different operations have different objective. For example, some feedyards exist to profit from availability of by-products from other agricultural industries. Other feedyards specialize in managing and acclimating freshly weaned, "walking and bawling" calves, while others primarily place high-risk cattle from geographic regions where cattle are produced in small numbers on small, part-time "hobby" farms and then commingled as they proceed through marketing channels. These cattle are typically mismanaged, i.e. lack vaccination, surgical procedures such as castration and dehorning, failure of passive transfer, lack identification, and represent calves that are born throughout the year, without regard for a calving season. Therefore, these cattle are at high-risk of developing disease following arrival to the feedyard, particularly respiratory disease. The time spent in marketing channels for these "immunologically fragile" animals further exacerbates the risk of developing disease in the feedyard due to exposure to animals and fomites capable of transmitting a broad spectrum of pathogens.

Understanding principles of critical review of the literature and information presented to feedyard management is essential for the consulting veterinarian. Review of the literature for well-designed studies that meet criteria of sound scientific design provides for recommendations that have the highest probability of success for a given population.

Following design of vaccination programs and treatment regimens, the consulting veterinarian monitors feedyard personnel and management for compliance to these programs. It is impossible to determine the effectiveness of a program or recommendation if the recommendation is not being followed, or is being followed sporadically or inconsistently. Monitoring compliance to recommended programs involves effective and transparent communication with the feedyard crew and review of feedyard computer records.

Once it is established that the crew is compliant to recommended programs, the individual program or recommended regimen can be evaluated for effectiveness. In the event of non-compliance to recommended programs, the consulting veterinarian determines why this is the case and works to adjust perceptions and cause-and-effect observations.

Provide training and education to feedyard personnel

There are a number of areas where competence of feedyard personnel is enhanced through continuous training.

Timely detection of disease and assessment of severity is possibly the most crucial and cost-benefit sensitive area of training required by feedyard personnel. The use of clinical illness scoring systems help feedyard personnel to "speak the same language" when identifying sick cattle for therapeutic treatment. These scoring systems also help to provide a standard of clinical condition for assessment of feedyard personnel effectiveness across different feedyards. Clinical illness scoring systems also help feedyard personnel to identify and "pull" cattle with mild clinical signs for treatment in order to limit irreversible pathology that impacts the performance and feed efficiency.

Clinical diagnosis and treatment of conditions commonly seen in the feedyard is essential in the training of feedyard personnel. This is challenging since cattle are a stoic species and there is considerable overlap in diagnoses that share common clinical signs. Examination and review of individual cases at the time of the consultants visit helps to align assessment criteria between the consulting veterinarian and feedyard personnel.

Selection of appropriate and cost-effective therapy is guided by the recommended program provided by the consulting veterinarian. The feedyard personnel must be trained in areas of very basic pharmacology in order to align expectations with reality. Drugs are not capable of returning diseased tissue to normal. The role of antibiotic therapy is to limit damage due to pathology of vital organs. It is the role of the consulting veterinarian to effectively convey these concepts and expectations to feedyard personnel.

Necropsy diagnosis is an important area of training for feedyard personnel. The standard of competency in this area for feedyard personnel is determining organ systems involved and distinguishing normal from abnormal. Although there is obviously no opportunity for intervention for that particular animal, there remains opportunity for intervention for the source population for that animal and for future intervention opportunities.

Training in the area of quality assurance compliance provides assurance of the most wholesome food product for consumers of beef. And, directly and immediately relevant to the feedyard is reduced trim and injection site reactions.

Hospital pen management and drug inventory management training will vary with the management system of the particular feedyard. Some feedyards utilize hospital pens for treatment, observation, and recovery of animals pulled for therapeutic treatment by pen riders. Other feedyards utilize "up and back" programs to treat animals and return them to their home pen the same day. Currently available therapeutic antibiotics and regimens accommodate "up and back" programs, which are generally more cost-effective and less labor intensive. Drug inventory management training assures that prohibited drugs are not used in the feedyard and that inventory is current in order to assure that in the event of and adverse event, there is a binding obligation for the manufacturer of involved product.

Although the vast majority of feedyard personnel have years to a lifetime of experience in areas of animal behavior and handling, there are opportunities to hone skills and check previously held concepts and paradigms. The consulting veterinarian can play the role of observer and provide input and feedback relative to procedures and methods utilized at other feedyards in the practice.

Convey and filter information

Feedyard management is literally bombarded with information from feed additive manufacturers, pharmaceutical and biological manufacturers, and growth implant manufacturers. Sources of information are the popular press, neighboring feedyards and colleagues, feed sales and animal health manufacturer representatives. The consulting veterinarian is also a source of information as he/she conveys information from the animal health industry to feedyard management. Perhaps more importantly, the consulting veterinarian uses principles of sound experimental design to filter information presented to feedyard management. These principles are applied to the information presented to feedyard management in the fashion of a critical review. These principles applied to results of studies done in support of a particular study are: randomization, blinding, external validity, clinically relevant outcomes, concurrent control group, appropriate experimental unit, and appropriate analysis and interpretation of the data.

Benchmark of feedyard performance

One of the "drawing cards" for a feedyard employing consulting services is the benchmark of their yard against other yards in the practice and against previous performance. This feature helps feedyards to understand where their performance is against their goals. It also helps to mark progress over time. A consistent set of performance standards established by the consulting veterinarians allows for comparison that has a common baseline. In cases where a feedyards performance is on the lower end of the database, feedyard management can then determine practices and procedures employed by feedyards whose performance is on the upper end of the database. While the appeal of the benchmark database seems to be the ability to compare their yard against other yards in the database, possibly the most value contributed by the benchmark database is the ability of a feedyard to mark progress in health performance parameters over time.

Serve as a sounding board for management

Although this may seem a superficial and abstract objective, the consulting veterinarian can provide objective, third-party perspective to management in the decision-making process for areas from personnel to cattle handling and management. This perspective is unique in that the consulting veterinarian does not have a conflict of interest or bias that others may have such as members of the board, assistant manager, cattle feeders, bankers, etc. Examples may be changes that are being considered in the cattle foreman position, health performance adjustments in risk management, arrival management considerations such as pregnancy examination and cost-effectiveness of these procedures. In the purest sense, the consulting veterinarian can provide direct, relevant, and unbiased feedback to management in a broad spectrum of management decisions and challenges.

Defray liability of management for custom cattle feeders

A custom cattle feeding organization has an ever-present risk of legal liability for decisions made regarding health and feeding performance of cattle on feed at any given time. As with most legal liability, the probability of a customer exercising the option to pursue legal action is low for suboptimal performance or excessive morbidity or mortality in a group of custom-fed cattle. However, successful pursuit of such legal action could be costly or even financially devastating to feedyard ownership. Therefore, one of the objectives of feedyard ownership and management for employing veterinary consulting services is to protect, or at least reduce responsibility and associated legal liability of feedyard management for decisions that have impact on health performance of customer-owned cattle. Although some recommendations made by the consulting veterinarian may mirror that of feedyard management independently, the ability of feedyard management to defer the responsibility of decisions to a licensed veterinarian strengthens the legal position of management. From the perspective of the consulting veterinarian, this objective may seem unrelated to the practice of veterinary medicine. However, from the perspective of feedyard management, this may be a primary objective for having the consulting veterinarian on the feedyard management team.

In summary, the consulting veterinarian can play an important role in the feedyard management team by meeting objectives on several fronts. The consulting veterinarian is uniquely qualified to provide essential training to feedyard personnel, to convey and filter information presented to feedyard management, and to design and monitor compliance and success of preventive and therapeutic health programs. Additional roles that the consulting veterinarians play are to provide objective and unbiased feedback to feedyard management in areas possibly unrelated to veterinary medicine or health performance, strengthen the legal position for decisions made by management that impact health performance, and to provide a benchmark comparison for the feedyard that allows for comparison against other "like" feedyards and progress of the feedyard in areas that impact health performance over time.

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