The Dirty Dozen: Profit-Robbing Threats in Calf Production and Tips for
Proper Management

Every day can be a battle for the beef producer. A myriad of factors can keep you from getting the full potential from your herd. From forces of nature to a host of diseases, the threats seem almost endless.

While you can’t do much about Mother Nature, you can minimize many of these threats by managing the major diseases that your cows and calves must avoid on a regular basis.

Experts in many of the leading cow/calf states helped us develop a list of the biggest threats to profits in cow/calf production. Below, you’ll see the “dirty dozen” that producers say they deal with most frequently.

  1. Poor body condition
  2. BVD complex
  3. Unsound bulls
  4. Calving distractions
  5. Calf scours
  6. Respiratory diseases
  7. Clostridial diseases
  8. Lepto
  9. Internal parasites
  10. External parasites
  11. Trace mineral deficiencies
  12. Johne’s disease

Tony Moravec, DVM, Merial Large Animal Veterinary Services, offers tips for managing these profit robbers, which may help add to your bottom line.

  • Develop healthy breeders – Veterinarians and livestock specialists agree that reproductive efficiency is one of the biggest issues producers face. The best way to tackle the concern head-on is to make sure the nutrient needs of cows are met before and after breeding.
  • Vaccinate both cows and calves – Good herd health includes a regimen of vaccinations. The program used will depend on local environmental conditions and pathogens active in the area, so follow recommendations from your veterinarian or local beef cattle extension specialist.
  • Use healthy bulls – Equally as important as having healthy females is having sound, healthy and fertile bulls. Use bulls from known sources, and always test for soundness and diseases before each breeding season.
  • Avoid calving distractions – After calving, the newborn calf must mother-up immediately. Minimize distractions for new mothers so that there isn’t a delay in the calf’s colostrum intake, which can alter future performance.
  • Disperse newborns – Once you get colostrum into new calves, it’s time to turn your attention to preventing scours. The solution is dispersion, and the ideal situation is to calve in a fresh pasture as often as possible.
  • Parasite prevention and control – The best vaccination program can be undone if internal and external parasites are left uncontrolled. Dewormers must be administered in the proper setting to kill parasites, prevent damage to your animals, and avoid pasture and cattle reinfection.
  • Enhance natural immunity by maintaining trace minerals – Deficiencies can be detected through blood samples; use them to ensure that your herd’s forage intake includes needed trace minerals.
  • Block out Johne’s disease – A disease of the intestinal tract, Johne’s disease is characterized by diarrhea and progressive weight loss.1 The key is to know the genetics of replacements, and buy replacements only from herds that have tested negatively for Johne’s disease.

Though there is room for improvement in managing these top threats, U.S. cattle producers are doing a much better job with herd health than in previous decades. Part of that is due to better genetics. But credit must also be given to improved management – correct implementation of parasite control protocols, better nutrition, use of minerals and trace minerals, vaccinations and disease prevention.


©2015 Merial, Inc., Duluth, GA. All rights reserved. RUMILSH1505 (06/15).

1Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Questions and Answers: Johne’s Disease in Cattle. Available at: Accessed June 1, 2015.