Effects of Commingling Beef Cattle

Manage and minimize the risks associated with commingling

Commingling beef cattle, or mixing cattle from multiple sources, is a common practice among many producers today. However, it poses potential health risks, like bovine respiratory disease (BRD). BRD, or shipping fever, continues to threaten the well-being of cattle as they enter new production phases, making it more difficult for producers to maintain a profitable herd.1

A study showed that commingling calves transported from various sources with unknown health histories can result in stress, nutritional deficiencies and exposure to infectious agents. All of these factors can suppress the immune system, which negatively impacts calf health and performance, and reduces the potential value of the calf.2 

To mitigate the adverse effects of commingling and maximize the value of calves, producers can implement the following management practices on their operation: 

Consider a preconditioning program
Proper management prior to weaning, transport and commingling plays an important role in an animal’s overall health and performance.3 Preconditioning programs are designed to help cattle respond favorably to various stressors and respond immunologically to disease-causing agents (pathogens). 

“Preconditioning programs, such as the Market Ready® Quality Feeder Calf Program, are a great way for cattle producers and feeders to prepare their animals for the next phase of production and gain more value from their animals,” said DL Step, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “Preconditioned cattle are better equipped to perform to their genetic potential.” 

Use antibiotics thoughtfully
Despite all our best efforts to prepare calves, there are still times when the metaphylactic use of antibiotics makes sense. 

“The majority of deaths due to BRD occur shortly after arrival at the feedlot,” reported Dr. Step.1,4 “Metaphylaxis can help minimize the number of calves that get sick, and therefore, the number that die.”

Producers receiving cattle from various locations, with an increased risk of developing BRD, can reduce the likelihood of their animals getting sick by treating them upon arrival with a rapid-response antimicrobial like Zactran® (gamithromycin). A single administration provides up to 10-day BRD treatment and control. 

Dr. Step adds that producers should consult their local veterinarian to develop a customized preventive health program that prioritizes their herd’s health and wellbeing.  

ZACTRAN IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: For use in cattle only. Do not treat cattle within 35 days of slaughter. Because a discard time in milk has not been established, do not use in female dairy cattle 20 months of age or older, or in calves to be processed for veal. The effects of ZACTRAN on bovine reproductive performance, pregnancy and lactation have not been determined. Subcutaneous injection may cause a transient local tissue reaction in some cattle that may result in trim loss of edible tissues at slaughter. NOT FOR USE IN HUMANS. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.



1 Edwards AJ. Respiratory diseases of feedlot cattle in the central USA. Bovine Pract 1996;30:5–7.

2 Step DL, Krehbiel CR, Depra H, Cranston JJ. Effects of commingling beef calves from different sources and weaning protocols during a 42-day receiving period on performance and bovine respiratory disease. J Anim Sci 2008;86(11):3146–3158.

3 Abidoye B, Lawrence JD. Value of single-source and backgrounded cattle as measured by health and feedlot profitability, in Proceedings. NCCC-134 Conference on Applied Commodity Price Analysis, Forecasting and Market Risk Management. Available at: http://www.farmdoc.uiuc.edu/nccc134. Accessed Sept. 10, 2019.

4 Loneragan GH, Dargatz DA, Morley PS, Smith MA. Trends in mortality ratios among cattle in U.S. feedlots. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;219(8):1122–1127.