Angus at Work

Armor Up Against BRD

September 14, 2022 Angus Beef Bulletin Season 1 Episode 16
Angus at Work
Armor Up Against BRD
Show Notes Transcript

Just like there are lots of pieces of armor to protect different things in battle, there are many pieces to the armor in the fight against bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Check out some of these pieces that Ron Tessman, Elanco, offers. 

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Kasey Brown:

            Hello and welcome to Angus at Work. I am your host, Kasey Brown. Today we are going to talk about the huge issue of BRD. But before we start that, I want to share a small personal story that helps my brain tie all of this together.

            My son Jackson is five and he got to attend vacation Bible school for the first time this summer, thanks to COVID. They were the Knights of North Castle. He was fired up. He is so excited about everything he learned there. And one of the songs that we have been singing over and over and over since the summer is about the armor of God. And so I'm going to share a little bit with you here.

You’ve got the sword of the spirit, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of justice, and the belt of truth, the shoes of peace to go spread the good news.

            I shared this with you because it really solidified in my mind that there are lots of parts to the armor of God, just like there are lots of parts in the armor against BRD. And so we're not going to solve this massive issue in this 15-ish-minute podcast, but we are going to give you some more pieces of armor that you can use to help protect your calves from BRD. I sat down with Dr. Ron Tessman with Elanco, and I had this really great conversation with him. So let's dig in. Let's get to work, shall we?

            So Ron, tell me your background with the beef industry.

Ron Tessman:

I grew up in Montana, didn't grow up on a cattle ranch but spent time working on cow ranches and working for different cattle producers, ended up going to vet school at Washington State University after attending undergraduate at Montana State, decided that I wanted to work on cattle. Initially my intent was to go back to Montana, but kind of got sidetracked, did an internship and then a residency, internship at K State residency at MU, but all focusing on cattle. And then after that, then I joined industry and have worked on developing cattle products and supporting cattle products. Cows are my passion. You can ask my kids, "What's your dad's favorite animal," and they'll tell you every day of the week, it's a cow.

Kasey Brown:

Oh, that's awesome. How old are your kids?

Ron Tessman:

I've got six kids ranging from 30 to 13.

Kasey Brown:

Nice.

Ron Tessman:

So kind of a wide range. At home, we just have the two youngest daughters, 16 and 13. And then one of the older daughters is back home helping out and looking for a job, just finished her master's degree.

Kasey Brown:

Oh, wow. Is she also interested in cattle?

Ron Tessman:

I don't think anybody is near as interested in cattle as I am. She got her master's in Psychology, so just maybe to psychoanalyze me.

Kasey Brown:

You've always got good practice then, right?

Ron Tessman:

That's right. That's right.

Kasey Brown:

We're going to talk about BRD today. You love cattle. Tell me why BRD is such a big issue.

Ron Tessman:

Well, one of the things, and you learn this even in animal science class as an undergraduate, cattle, we're at a little bit of a disadvantage when we're talking about the respiratory tract from an anatomic physiologic just basis, cattle's lungs are smaller physiologically. They don't have all of the same things potentially that we need to keep them as healthy as maybe some other species. I won't go into those details that are pretty boring to people that may not be as interested.

            And the other thing we know is that we are optimizing our cattle and we are doing really great from an efficiency standpoint, creating more protein per animal. And so that's going to stretch the weakest link, which on a cow is the lungs. And even if we weren't there, which I'm glad we are, we're still going to have problems with respiratory diseases. We have that in all species. Cattle are just a little bit more prone to actually the bacterial pneumonia than some of the other species. So what we've got to work for is how can we mitigate that, mitigate the severity of that disease when it does happen?

Kasey Brown:

And BRD's kind of tricky because it's not just one bacterial or viral strain that causes it. Right?

Ron Tessman:

That's right.

Kasey Brown:

Can you talk to that?

Ron Tessman:

Yeah. I always say it as a joke a little bit, because I trained vet students for several years, "When you graduate from vet school, you're an expert on BRD. You know the four bacterial pathogens, Mannheimia, Pasteurella, Histophilus, Mycoplasma. And then you know the four major viruses, right? You know IBR, BVD, BRSB and PI3. And you know that it's stress. So you're an expert, but we still haven't really solved that puzzle."

            And that's a really important point that I think is one of the things at Elanco and the group that I'm in here at Elanco, that we really stress is management over medicine, trying to understand each individual operation that we work with and with the veterinarians that we work with to try and tailor-make whatever sort of recommendations, because I can make a broad recommendation and it's always going to be wrong.

Kasey Brown:

Right.

Ron Tessman:

Right? It's never going to fit everybody. And so that's one of the things that I think is really important is to try and understand exactly what management practices may be leading to or mitigating and how we can work through that in a more systems type approach.

Kasey Brown:

Let's talk about some of those management things. I know we need to set those calves up for success. What are some things that we can do to help those calves?

Ron Tessman:

Yeah, that's a great place to start, but actually we should start with the cow.

Kasey Brown:

All right. Perfect.

Ron Tessman:

The year before.

Kasey Brown:

Yes.

Ron Tessman:

And that's the thing that I think sometimes we forget, especially someone like me that spent a lot of time working specifically on the disease process. And I'm just focusing on the disease. Right? And so how do we treat it and that sort of thing, but we've got to really look back to that cow because we want that cow in good condition. If that cow's in good condition, good nutrition, that calf's going to grow great in utero. It's going to have all of the good things that it needs to set up its immune response to respond. And then when it hits the ground, that cow, hopefully, will have great immunoglobulins in its colostrum. So now we have a healthy calf and then that healthy calf can go on and then grow and respond.

            And so we've got to focus on that cow, make sure we're providing her the appropriate nutrition, make sure we're vaccinating her appropriately and at the appropriate time so that she's in a good immune state to transfer those immunoglobulins to that colostrum. And then work through with that calf, make sure appropriate nutrition again in that calf's life and using vaccines at the appropriate time and in the appropriate measure.

            Sometimes I think vaccines are wonderful. I've worked and actually helped develop a couple vaccines in my time at R & D, but I think we can over-vaccinate sometimes. And so we get into this thing where, "We've got a problem this year, let's add another vaccine. We get into a problem next year. Let's add another vaccine," when maybe sometimes we need to think about the management and really be judicious even in our vaccination so that we can get the most out of those things.

Kasey Brown:

And it's so easy to think, "Well, I've got a vaccine, it's a silver bullet."

Ron Tessman:

That's right.

Kasey Brown:

But it's not.

Ron Tessman:

That's right. And without that calf in that good, healthy status, that vaccine, probably they're not going to respond as well as they could to that vaccine.

Kasey Brown:

And I think I've heard before that vaccination does not equal immunization.

Ron Tessman:

That's right.

Kasey Brown:

Can you talk to that?

Ron Tessman:

That's right. That's right. We develop these vaccines and whether it's a modified live viral vaccine so we've modified it so it doesn't cause disease, or a killed product or even a bacterial component type product, the idea is that we're giving that animal an antigen. And we're relying on its immune system to recognize that as foreign, spool up, create antibodies, even some cellular immunity, T-cells, going to get a little bit technical with you, some killer T-cells so that we have those on board for those viral antigens or viral pathogens with the responding to the antigens. That's one of the great things when we talk about the modified live viruses, that we get that whole big response, but now we've got to have that calf in the ... So not stressed, hopefully, in a good nutritional plane, good micronutrient plane, so that they can respond to that challenge because it really is a challenge.

            And one of the things that we forget, I think, a lot of times as producers, even as veterinarians, there's a cost to that immune system response. And you can even look back in your old NRC way back when and look in your calculations, there is a cost there for the immune system. Now, it's kind of some hand waving, but it's there. So we've got to be cognizant of that, make sure we have that animal in a good nutritional plane.

Kasey Brown:

That's good. Let's talk about that. I've never heard it said as the immune system has a cost. And so you're meaning as in it has to take nutrients to fuel the immune system, which means it's not growing with those nutrients.

Ron Tessman:

That's right.

Kasey Brown:

Right?

Ron Tessman:

That's right. It's not free. And so if we look at an animal that maybe is not on the greatest plane of nutrition. Right? So it's growing, or maybe we're talking about a cow that has a calf that's growing, so now we're trying to shunt that in. Or maybe we've got a nursing calf on a cow. So all of those things have a cost to them. If we think about the big picture of taking energy in and where does that energy go? And so now if we're on that, just that minimal plane of nutrition and we stick something else in there, we're not going to get as good of an immune response as we probably could have if they were in that really good state of nutrition.

            So it's really important to think, as we talk about partial budgets and all that sort of stuff that I don't really, that's not my thing. I'm a veterinarian, not an economist, but we talk about that sort of thing, a lot of times we don't think about that immunology. That immune response is on that negative side. Now down the road, it's on the positive side, but we've got to pay for that.

Kasey Brown:

Right. And it kind of feels like an insurance policy.

Ron Tessman:

That's right.

Kasey Brown:

You don't want to have to file a claim, but you have it if you do.

Ron Tessman:

That's exactly right. That's a really good way to put it.

Kasey Brown:

Awesome. So let's talk about what are some solutions? Even with the best management practices and vaccines, we know calves can still get sick.

Ron Tessman:

That's right.

Kasey Brown:

What are some mitigation options once a calf is sick?

Ron Tessman:

One of the things that I think is most important is identifying as early as we can that the calf is sick and then trying to identify, "Okay, is this truly respiratory disease? Or is it something else? Is it a GI disease? Is it something like that, that's actually making them breathe harder so it looks like a respiratory disease?" And really that's a lot of experience, looking at those calves. It's also being around people, whether it's a veterinarian or an animal health type professional, whatever, animal science teacher or some, so that you can get that idea. "Okay, this is what is going on. This is really the clinical signs that separate those sorts of things. Oh, this calf has a fever. Maybe it has watery eyes and watery nose. So yeah, this one doesn't. It's breathing hard, so maybe that's actually a GI thing that's going on." And learning that and over time and trying to be there early, and that allows our antibiotics, antimicrobials to work the best, if we can get in there early and we don't get into a chronic situation.

            And one of the things that I always say, whenever I'm out on a feedyard or on a cow-calf operation or a stocker operation, I'm like, "I'm here today. You're here every day looking at these animals. You know them better than I do. Just make sure you use that knowledge and use that eye to make sure that you're identifying those animals or trying to identify those animals as early as you can. And just work at trying to get better every day." Right? I mean, we can all get better.

Kasey Brown:

Right. And part of that I would assume would be recordkeeping, making sure that, I mean, it's the unglamorous part of the cattle business, but we've got to know what's happening and be able to look back on things.

Ron Tessman:

Absolutely. I mean, there are a lot of electronic type database recordkeeping and stuff like that. And those are great if that's something you want to use. But even the old book that the farmers and ranchers used to carry around in their pocket.

Kasey Brown:

The little stenographer notebook and pen?

Ron Tessman:

Yeah, whatever it takes. But that's really important because especially if we get into an outbreak situation, maybe we have one calf, and then we have two, and now we have six, that may be a little bit different deal that we're dealing with. And maybe that changes how we address that problem than if it's just the odd one animal that gets BRD because of whatever reason. And so if we don't have those accurate records, it's hard to communicate to the veterinarian what is going on and what different approaches maybe need to be taken.

Kasey Brown:

Gotcha. Where can our listeners go to learn more about resources that they need to stay ahead of BRD?

Ron Tessman:

One of the things that I really encourage producers to do is interact with your local veterinarian, interact with your local extension agent. I mean, they're a tremendous resource out there and sometimes they're not as well utilized as they could be, and they're going to be there to help you. And your local universities, there's a lot of quality ag schools out there that can help too, and then have a lot of resources available.

Kasey Brown:

I think that's a great way to wrap this up, but before we go, I always like to end our podcast with some good news, because we all know the cattle business is really the people business. Right? So can you share something with us that's been good, whether it's personal, professional or both?

Ron Tessman:

Well, one of the really fun things this year has been my youngest son has had a chance to actually wrestle at the college level this year, starting for Drury University out of Springfield. And he's had quite a good season so far, he's ranked 12th in the nation.

Kasey Brown:

Wow.

Ron Tessman:

And so we're looking for him to get an opportunity to make it to nationals, hopefully. So pretty excited about that.

Kasey Brown:

Oh, good. Do you get to see him often?

Ron Tessman:

Oh, yeah. We try and make it to as many of the matches as we can. Few weeks ago we drove all the way down to Oklahoma. And we live in Kansas City and drove all the way down to Oklahoma and turned around and drove back. And then we went to Indianapolis here recently too. And so we try and make every one that we can.

Kasey Brown:

Yeah. Well, that's perfect. Dr. Tessman, thank you so much for your time and your insight. And I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us.

            Listeners, to get more information to help make Angus work for you, check out the resources to our print Angus Beef Bulletin and digital Angus Beef Bulletin Extra in our show notes. And we want to hear from you. Let us know your ideas and comments at abbeditorial@angus.org. And be sure to rate this podcast or leave us a review to tell us what you learned or what was helpful. And share this episode with any other profit-minded cattleman. As always, thanks for listening to Angus at Work.