New cost calculator illustrates
financial impacts of BVD
By Lilian Schaer
A new animal disease model that puts a cost on an outbreak of
Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) in a beef herd makes a strong case
for isolating sick animals on-farm.
A low-impact BVD outbreak on a 500-head feedlot could cost the
operation $5,500 and a high-impact outbreak up to $275,000.
Those figures were generated by the model based on 2009 cost and
revenue data provided by real Ontario producers.
The program, built in an Excel spreadsheet, calculates the
financial impact of moderate or severe outbreaks of specific
diseases on beef, veal, sheep, goat and rabbit farms. This
includes BVD in cattle, Mycoplasmosis in veal, Q Fever in sheep,
Caprine Arthritis and Encephalitis (CAE) in goats and
Pasteurellosis in rabbits.
Producers must input a series of data in the spreadsheet, such
as feed costs, average daily gain, mortality rates and others
depending on the particular commodity, in order for the model to
Bob Brander, who runs a feedlot and cash crop operation near
Caledon, participated in the development of the model by
providing cost data from his farm, including feed costs, cost of
gain per pound, death loss and the types of animal health
treatments he uses. He’s an experienced cattleman, but the
results of the cost calculator were surprising even to him.
“I always knew that sick cattle don’t make money; in fact, they
can lose you a lot of money, but the cost was even higher than I
thought,” he says. “You don’t only have the loss of the animal
but also the costs of when the other animals in the herd get
His key advice to other producers when dealing with BVD? Make
sure you buy vaccinated cattle and if you do notice sick ones,
separate them from the healthy animals right away to avoid
spread of the virus.
“BVD is a very deadly disease so the best thing is to make sure
the cattle you buy are vaccinated for BVD type 1 and 2,” he
says. “And if you do run into a sick animal, isolate him from
[Subhead] What is BVD and what to look out for
There are many different clinical signs of BVD, depending on the
virulence of the virus, the strength of an animal’s immune
system and what other infections the animal might have. It is
possible for cattle to be BVD carriers without showing any
Symptoms of mild BVD include poor appetite, rapid breathing,
low-grade fever, excessive nasal secretion and discharges from
the eyes, and diarrhea. Signs are seen six to 12 days after
infection and generally last one to three days, followed by full
recovery of the animal.
Outbreaks of acute BVD infection are characterized by various
symptoms, including respiratory disease, severe depression, loss
of appetite, watery or bloody diarrhea, fever, ulcerations in
the mouth and pharynx and high illness and death rates.
Cattle that are persistently infected with BVD may not show any
clinical signs, but do shed the virus through bodily fluids like
saliva, posing a risk to healthy animals in the herd. If an
unvaccinated cow becomes infected by a mild form of the virus
during her first four months of pregnancy, her calf will be
Cows that are exposed to BVD during the early stages of the
herd’s breeding cycle will have lower conception rates and
higher abortion rates. Early pregnancy loss can be very high in
infected cows resulting in apparent herd infertility. During
later stages of gestation, BVD exposure can result in abortion,
mummified foetuses and stillbirths.
Isolation protocols for sick animals
sick animals from the rest of the herd.
line control to prevent nose-to-nose contact with animals in
enhanced biosecurity between quarantine areas and the rest of your herd
to avoid disease spread.
indirect contact with manure or bodily fluids from sick animals.
Sanitize tools and equipment after using in sick areas and move into
quarantine areas only after you’ve completed work in areas with healthy
access to your production areas and keep track of visitors. Cleaning and
disinfection of people and equipment is necessary.
your staff is trained in biosecurity measures.
project is part of a new, multi-phase project partnership between
Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, Ontario Veal Association, Ontario Goat,
Ontario Rabbit, and Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency to identify, quantify
and address biosecurity gaps and build the livestock industry’s
emergency preparedness capabilities.
Funding was provided in part through Growing Forward, a
federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation
Council assists in the delivery of several Growing Forward programs in
The disease calculator model will be available for download from
access resources on reducing disease risk to your herd or for more
information, please contact the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association at (519)