Pull yourself together, grab the nearest qualified veterinarian and get back in the game
By Rhonda McCurry
If a cow isn’t producing a live calf then she is a negative impact on her home herd. But it may not be her fault.
Before she is culled for not settling and raising a calf each year a rancher must evaluate any problems, including diseases that may have led to a cow’s downfall. The reality is there are constant factors playing against the rancher and their cows to try and stop production. Diseases like leptospirosis, bovine herpes (IBR) and bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) are annual issues, no matter how much a rancher treats for it. Prevention against these diseases is necessary, however, because without it the cows are at a greater risk for abortion.
Merck Animal Health’s Cattle Technical Services Manager Jacques Fuselier, DVM, says if a rancher sees abortion in a high percentage of cows (such as 30-percent of the cow herd) then Lepto (leptospirosis) must be considered as a cause. A veterinarian should be brought in at this point to assess the operation, determine the risk areas and exposure to the disease, and test cows that have and have not aborted. If a rancher finds an aborted fetus the absolute best thing to do is to put the placenta and fetus on ice and bring it to a vet to test for cause. This is a disturbing image but can help prevent future problems.
Because ranchers can attribute losing a calf during gestation to so many environmental factors, Lepto is a disease that may not be recognized immediately. The most common type of this bacterial disease resulting in cattle abortions is Pomona, a bacterium that is commonly shed by feral pigs. Animals infected with Pomona can drink or urinate into streams and quickly contaminate the water. As this same water flows, then collects in a drinking pond or stagnant stream, it can be ingested by cattle, which could ultimately lead to Lepto abortions. But since ranchers may sometimes only pay attention to “if” a cow is bred, they may not stop to test a cow for Lepto if she comes back in heat. Thus the diagnosis is lost and the disease persists in the herd.
If a rancher has a couple of cows that are bred then come in heat 42 days or more later, trichimoniasis (Trich) or campylobacter could be the issue. Testing for Trich and campylobacter is performed on all the breeding bulls on the operation. Before turning a new bull out with cows, a rancher should Trich test the bull with the help of the local veterinarian. Dr. Fuselier instructs his clients not to buy a bull unless it has a negative trich test but also to test the animal again once it is home.
“It’s not expensive to do so when you consider the cost of introducing this disease to your ranch,” Dr. Fuselier suggests. “It’s like insurance.”
Very few diseases are diagnosed
Nutrition also plays a vital role. When mineral imbalances in a cow’s diet exist so does infertility. Copper, selenium and Vitamin A are critical as holistic parts of the cow’s diet. A good treatment plan, Dr. Fuselier explains, requires diagnostics and a good management level on the ranch. He also says that members of the beef industry tend to be reactive to such disease issues rather than proactive.
With that said, abortions typically occur sporatically. When the rancher sees an abortion storm, the point is to react quickly, with appropriate diagnostic measures to test cows and determine the cause of an abortion storm. Very few diseases are diagnosed, so when a rancher sees cows aborting in the early phases they move on due to time and labor. Without taking time to cull cows that carry Lepto or other reproductive diseases it is impossible to eradicate and therefore will exist from year to year.
Dr. Fuselier says every cow herd has a percentage of pregnancy loss or wastage, which means some cows are diagnosed pregnant but don’t have a calf. A rate of two to five-percent of cows not calving is considered to be normal but if that number bumps up to eight or ten percent then something may be wrong.
Lepto shows up suddenly and in a short period of time a rancher will see cows abort late in its pregnancy. Proper vaccinations should be administered to all cows on a regular, annual basis.
Ranchers should also keep in mind that if they pride themselves on being a closed herd that the neighbors’ fence does not keep out disease – only the neighbors’ animals themselves. Dr. Fuselier recommends an isolation area for new animals and those coming off of a stock trailer. A 30-day isolation of all calves, cows or herd bulls is important before being mixed in with the home group and is the best chance to decrease exposing the herd to whatever that animal might be carrying.
At the end of the day the best management tool for reproductive diseases in cattle is to manage them with vaccinations and proper biosecurity. Dr. Fuselier says the first steps are keeping new or questionable animals from infecting others through isolation and quarantine, exposing them later to the herd. Next, maintaining cow health with proper nutrition and routine vaccinations are final keys to limiting and stopping reproductive challenges.
“A little bit of foot work and money spent on good management will all be worth it when those little calf legs first hit the ground,” he says.