Veterinarian Richard Prather has seen a lot of changes since he started practicing in the 1980s, but the basics of good livestock care have remained constant and fit right in with what the public is demanding from the beef industry today.

Veterinarian Richard Prather has seen a lot of changes since he started practicing in the 1980s, but the basics of good livestock care have remained constant and fit right in with what the public is demanding from the beef industry today.

Good management at the cow-calf level sets the stage for reduced antibiotic use throughout the industry, he said during the Northwest Oklahoma Beef Conference in Enid.

A healthy cow receiving adequate nutrition provides her newborn calf with the colostrum needed to get a good start. Following that up with a preconditioning program insures the calf will have strong immunity to fight future infections, including pneumonia, which autopsies show is more prevalent than most producers realize.

“A lot of sickness in our feedlots goes back to calves that were never vaccinated,” he said. “There’s a connection between what the cow-calf producer does and feedlot performance.”

Preconditioning calves, or setting them up for success, should be treated as an investment that pays off at sale time, said Gant Mourer, a beef value enhancement specialist with Oklahoma State University.

Cow-calf producers are not just marketing calves, but “marketing how they manage” their cattle, he said.

Mourer helps them do that by overseeing the Oklahoma Quality Beef Network, a series of special sales held at prominent livestock auctions statewide, which showcase consignments that qualify for age, source and health management verification.

Research shows that producers who follow OQBN’s Vac-45 program earn a positive return eight years out of 10, he said.

Concern about potential overuse of antibiotics drove the FDA to increase federal oversight earlier this year by introducing the new Veterinary Feed Directive.

Prather said U.S.-produced beef is already safe and free of antibiotic residues due to numerous redundancies built into the beef inspection system.

Still, he said the VFD requirements are an opportunity for vets and producers to forge stronger working relationships, and the industry appears to be adapting well so far.

“It’s the right thing for you and your veterinarian and your cows to get together every once in a while,” he said. “I was really dreading how it would go, but it’s been pretty smooth.”

Using important antibiotics under veterinary oversight gives the beef industry another selling point when telling a positive story about beef production, which also includes making strides in the efficient use of natural resources.

“Just look at how we’ve decreased our environmental footprint,” he said. “We’re producing beef with 20 percent less feedstuffs and 12 percent less water.”

All of this is important to Prather because he wants to see beef production continue and thrive, even as he worries that rural schools and communities are shrinking.

“Back when I started in the mid-1980s, three-fourths of my clientele were father-and-son operations,” he said. “Now I’d say it’s maybe one in four. That concerns me greatly.”

“As beef producers, you are the backbone of this country and this state,” he added. “We need to be thinking about how we can pass that on to the next generation.”