Liver disease impacts feedlot bottom line, Australian study

If more than 20% of an animal’s liver is affected by abscesses, the feedlot’s bottom line will be impacted
calendar icon 27 December 2021
clock icon 3 minute read

A recent project out of south-east Queensland has provided new insight for feeders on the impact of liver defects, particularly on carcass characteristics, and the health and performance of feedlot cattle.

Led by associate professor Rachel Allavena from the University of Queensland, the Meat and Livestock Australia-funded study analysed a data set of 11,500 livers from cattle in three different classes: 100-day Angus, 100-day mixed breed and 300-day long-fed category.

Allavena said the retrospective study revolved around using disease data that was already available to them – something of which lot feeders could also take advantage.

“We analysed data that meat inspectors were already collecting – so as the animals come through, and they’re health and disease status is being checked, the meat inspectors add all this information to the abattoir’s terminal or ‘box’," she said.

“The good thing is that this type of data is already being collected by most abattoirs – it’s there if you want to look back over what’s happened in the past and use this information to make decisions,” she continued.

By running an analysis on this health and disease data over a number of years, Allavena said producers can obtain a range of insights, including whether disease prevalence has gone down over time and if there are any patterns to keep an eye on.

While liver disease occurrence can often be impacted by things lot feeders can’t control, like the weather, she said it could also be put down to where cattle are sourced from, or any management strategies put in place to reduce liver abscessation.

The second study as part of this project relied on the research team matching individual animal, carcase and liver data after slaughter to find out detailed information about how liver disease impacted that particular animal.

“What’s interesting about that is we were able to match certain diseases that each liver showed to specific impacts, like reduction in carcase weight or increased ossification – really important things for lot feeders to have data on,” Allavena said.

This prospective collection of individual liver, carcase and animal data led to one of the major findings of the project: a ‘threshold’ that determines the point at which an abscessed liver becomes an economic problem for the lot feeder.

“We found that if more than 20% of an animal’s liver had abscessation or the abscesses were more severe, this was very much associated with reduced performance,” Allavena said.

In animals where >20% liver abscessation occurred, the researchers recorded increased frequencies of reduced: average daily weight gain; hot standard carcase weight; dressing percentage; p8 and rib fat; and carcase value.

Allavena said there’s a fine line between an economically viable animal with liver abscessation and one that’s going to cause issues for your bottom line, even if the animal looks well.

“That 20% mark is the clear cut-off," she said. "Once you’re over that point, you’re losing money and it’s worth your while to get to the bottom of the abscessation issue."


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