Untreated pneumonia results in lost liveweight gain

Lung damage caused by pneumonia could be costing some cattle nearly 74kg a year in lost liveweight gain, according to a trial undertaken by Blade Farming South West and Schering Plough.

Speaking at a press briefing at Lackham, Wiltshire, on Tuesday, Paul Williams, livestock vet adviser with Schering Plough, said the results suggested many cattle were failing to receive effective pneumonia treatment.

The study involved assessing the lungs of 645 commercial beef cattle from 15 units at slaughter for evidence of lung damage. Data were also collected on carcass weight, animal age and carcass grade, allowing estimated daily liveweight gains to be calculated.

“Cattle were scored according to the degree of lung lobe consolidation evident in the lung – a key indicator of pneumonia infection.

“Nearly half the cattle examined (48%) had damage to at least one lung lobe, but there was huge variation between units, with all cattle from one farm having damaged lungs,” he explained.

Most importantly, the extent of lung damage was strongly associated with reduced liveweight gain. “In cattle where more lung lobes were affected, there was greater potential daily liveweight gain loss. In some cattle the reduction in daily liveweight gain was as much as 202g a day.”

Pneumonia Calves Large

More than 300 cattle had any degree of lung damage and in these the average reduction in liveweight gain over 14 months was 15kg. “This lead to a loss of about £16.90 an animal based on a liveweight price of £1.10/kg. The overall loss for this group of animals was potentially £5239, money the beef sector can ill afford to lose.”

Additionally, those animals with significant lung lobe damage also had reduced conformation grade and hence receive an even lower price. “Where consolidation was seen in all six lung lobes the average price paid was more than 2p/kg lower than the base price.

“This compares to animals with no lobe consolidation which received an average price of nearly 2p/kg more than the base price,” explained Mr Williams.

Commenting on the results, Richard Phelps managing director of Blade SW said it was critical to the future of efficient production that diseases such as pneumonia were managed effectively. “It’s surprising how many cattle which look physically healthy have an underlying level of lung damage.

“The data have been used to help our rearing units re-assess their protocols and ensure calves have the best possible start in life. Pneumonia is most often a problem in young rearing cattle, but the damage it does can affect that animal’s performance for the rest of its life.”

Central to preventing this sort of early life lung damage is effective treatment of pneumonia with both an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory, added Mr Williams. “Trials have shown than dual action treatment results in 37% less lung damage than antibiotic only.”

But the most important result of the trial was that Blade SW was able to feed the data back to farmers, he reckoned. Mr Williams said the beef industry needed to follow the model of the pig sector where abattoir data were regularly fed back to finishers to help with disease control.

Abattoir feedback:

  • Half cattle trailled showed infection
  • Shows need for effective treatment
  • Feedback will help boost price