The U.S. beef cattle production system usually involves several movements of animals between farms, from birth of the calf to slaughter of the finished animal. Small breeding herds produce most of the calves born in a given year. These calves may grow on the property of birth until finished, but most sell as yearling steers (castrated bulls) and heifers (cows) for further growth on larger, more extensive ranches (backgrounding). These animals aggregate from a variety of farms and a variety of regions at these establishments. Further aggregation and movement occurs when animals move for final finishing on grain at a feedlot before slaughter.
Cattle in feedlots have unique disease pressures. Animals from multiple sources are densely concentrated within the feedlot, and they enter the feedlot with varying immunological exposures and pathogen status. The alteration to diet, housing, and management can increase the risk of infectious disease. Efficient systems for sourcing, moving, managing, and feeding cattle and for controlling disease within feedlots are essential for them to be profitable.
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