Keeping Cattle in a Natural Program

Published on Mon, 08/01/2016 - 11:01am

By Dr. Jim Sears, Senior Technical Services Veterinarian, Bayer Animal Health

    When it comes to food and food production, consumers take into consideration a variety of values. These values can range from core demands, including safety and quality, to more trend-driven ones, such as traceability and sustainability.

Today’s beef producers offer a variety of options designed to meet the values of today’s consumers. For some, that includes natural beef production.

Defining Natural Beef Production
The term “natural” can include a multitude of different programs under which cattle can be raised. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines natural as: A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”). According to USDA, this definition applies to how the meat itself was processed post-harvest; not how the animal was raised. However, a niche market has developed in which the term “natural” has been applied to the production system as well. Most natural production systems have some sort of restriction under which the cattle must be raised.

These restrictions often focus on diet, hormone use and/or antibiotic use. For those programs that restrict antibiotic use specifically, antibiotic use can range from no antibiotic use ever to no antibiotic use within a certain number of days before slaughter. Regardless of the type of natural production system used, for producers focused on producing natural beef, total health management is crucial to the success of a natural beef operation. Providing the care needed for sick animals can become a challenge, especially when it comes to bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

If cattle become ill and require treatment that involves an antibiotic, those animals must be removed from the natural program. That means the premium the animal would be worth at market would be lost, costing the producer time and money ranging from $100 to $500 per head.

Keeping It Natural with Immunostimulants
Enter Zelnate immunostimulant — a non-vaccine, non-antibiotic treatment option that changes the way producers — including natural beef producers — are able to fight BRD. Zelnate works by essentially jumpstarting the animal’s own defense system or immune response to eliminate pathogens from the body. This involves the innate immune system, which is the first internal line of defense for the animal. The innate immune system detects pathogens and works to contain infection within the first hours or days of exposure, and then initiates the adaptive immune system which helps the body develop an additional immune response to the pathogen over days or weeks after exposure.

Researchers have been looking at the use of immunology to treat or control BRD by triggering the animal’s immune system during stressful periods. Stressors — such as weaning, shipping, commingling, dehydration, castration, and weather changes — can lead to illness as stressful events often suppress the immune system. By improving the animal’s own innate immune system to function better at the time of stress, the body is better able to fight off the infection and can help reduce mortality from deadly diseases such as BRD.

Zelnate differs from a vaccine and antibiotic as it non-specifically stimulates the innate immune system. In contrast, vaccines trigger a specific adaptive immunity response to specific pathogens, and antibiotics treat BRD through selective targeting of bacterial pathogens. For diseases such as BRD that are caused by a wide range of pathogens, Zelnate offers an additional way to help animals fight the infection, especially for natural producers. Because Zelnate is non-antibiotic, it may be a treatment option for natural producers. Each natural program or its auditor should decide if Zelnate will be accepted as an approved product for use in their operation. Immunostimulants such as Zelnate can offer a new treatment option for at-risk animals that address current disease challenges and potentially reduce the need for therapeutics.

Learning How to Use Zelnate
What is the best way for natural cattle producers to use Zelnate? Zelnate should be used at the time of or within 24 hours after a perceived stressful event, which can include the following:

• Sickness/Pull and Treat
A common use of Zelnate would be via pull and treat. In this scenario, if the calf is identified as looking sick, it could receive Zelnate and possibly an ancillary treatment. In cases where the animal would still need an antibiotic, potentially with Zelnate, the calf would need to be removed from the natural program.

• On Arrival
Another option for use of Zelnate is on arrival at a facility. Transportation can be a major stress and often coincides with other stressors that can lead to an increased risk of disease. Using Zelnate on arrival can assist natural producers in protecting the animal’s health and productivity.
• Pen Level

Commingling of calves certainly can be a stressful event. If this leads to more sickness in a pen than expected, the entire pen may be pulled and given Zelnate, potentially with vaccinations. Treating the group can help prevent the spread of illness and help the animals develop the immunity needed to fight the necessary pathogens.

Initial studies showed that Zelnate was effective as a stand-alone therapy in reducing lung lesions and mortality associated with a Mannheimia haemolytica challenge. In one field BRD metaphylaxis study of cattle at medium-risk for developing BRD, cattle were metaphylactically administered either Zelnate or Micotil.

The BRD morbidity outcome for Zelnate was found to be non-inferior to that of Micotil. No significant differences were observed between treatment groups for BRD repulls, BRD chronicity, BRD case-fatality, average daily gain and feed efficiency (p>0.05). 1
In subsequent studies in high-risk cattle, Zelnate was shown to be most effective when used at the same time as an antibiotic either on arrival or at the time of pull and treat.

Researchers continue to evaluate the role of immunostimulants in treating disease. Immunology provides a huge area of potential for producers as the need for new and innovative BRD treatments continues.

While the natural beef market remains small in comparison to conventionally-raised beef, the demand for, and interest in natural beef has not waned. Food experts expect consumer interest in food production to not only continue, but to increase. For those producers interested in producing natural beef, immunostimulants provide a much needed tool that can help fight BRD while ultimately keeping animals natural and healthy.


1 Data on file. Bayer Animal Health.

This product is based on technology developed by Juvaris BioTherapeutics and is patent protected. Animal health applications are being exclusively developed by Bayer Animal Health and are the subject of Bayer patent applications.