Section 3 | Bovine Respiratory Disease in Feedlots

Ontario Beef Industry
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Identifying Bovine Respiratory Disease

Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is the most common and costly disease of feedlot cattle. Approximately 10-30% of auction-derived calves are treated for BRD, with 5-10% of the treated calves dying17. Treatment costs, labour, isolation, increased time on feed, mortality, reduced weight gain, and feed efficiency will together create a cost of $92.30 per case of BRD18. BRD is a complex disease involving many types of infections and clinical signs, and can affect the lower respiratory tract/lungs (pneumonia), or upper respiratory tract (rhinitis, tracheitis, bronchitis).


Source: ACER Consulting Ltd.

Early intervention is key to effective treatment of BRD. This can reduce mortality and reduce the need for re-treatment. Therefore, early identification is critical to reduce the negative consequences associated with BRD.


Many sick cattle can be identified using the DART system to identify clinical signs and evaluate for BRD:

  • Depression
  • Appetite loss
  • Respiratory signs (increased effort and/or rate)
  • Temperature increase


No system is perfect. While this system does a decent job of identifying cattle with BRD, there are still a fair number of DART-positive animals that do not truly have BRD. This can lead to unnecessary use of antimicrobial medications in healthy animals. Also, cattle with BRD may not be diagnosed leading to poorer growth and higher mortality. It is important to work with your veterinarian to assess the need for treatment.


New technology is being developed to help identify cattle with BRD. Automated recording systems that continuously monitor cattle could help identify animals in the early stages of BRD. Sick animals will typically go off feed and spend more time resting to save energy while they fight off disease. Monitoring feed bunk visits and feed intake can help in identifying sick cattle. More work is needed, but the promise is there.

The use of automated temperature measurement through infrared thermography is another new technology that could identify BRD sooner. High body temperature may be one of the first signs of animals with BRD, and infrared thermometry could spot these animals earlier in the course of disease. Devices for measuring feed intake require more research prior to widespread adoption and use in the beef industry19.

Work with your veterinarian to establish the best way to identify animals that require treatment for BRD, and finding the right drug for the right condition, at the right dosage.


  1. Booker, C.W., Abutarbush, S.M., Morley, P.S., Jim, G.K., Pittman, T.J., Schunicht, O.C., Perrett, T., Wildman, B.K., Fenton, R.K., Guichon, P.T., Janzen, E.D., 2008, Microbiological and histopathological findings in cases of fatal bovine respiratory disease of feedlot cattle in western Canada. Can. Vet. J. 49, 473-481.
  2. Schneider MJ, Tait Jr RG, Busby WD, Reecy JM, 2009. An evaluation of bovine respiratory disease complex in feedlot cattle: Impact on performance and carcass traits using treatment records and lung lesion scores. J. Anim. Sci. 87, 1821-1827.
  3. Wolfger, B., Schwartzkopf-Genswein, K.S., Barkema, H.W., Pajor, E.A., Levy, M., and Orsel, K. 2015. Feeding behavior as an early predictor of bovine respiratory disease in North American feedlot systems. J. Anim. Sci. 93: 377-385.