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Good management should overcome bovine reproductive diseases

Author says the two worst reproductive diseases can be managed largely with biosecurity.

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke

February 3, 2020

5 Min Read
Black cow with new calf
Alan Newport

Most cattle diseases are management induced. This holds true for the two major reproductive diseases, Vibrio and trichonomiasis.

As a couple of background examples, the oldest and biggest bucks in the wild seldom settle the most does. Further, some wildlife biologists claim that giant animals are freaks and tend to be short-lived.

Doctors Blood and Henderson wrote a lot in Merck's bovine medicine manual on Vibrio and trichonomiasis in the 1950s. These are not new issues but unfortunately the problems continue and it would be good to review on a regular basis.

Vibriosis is now called campylobacteriosis. The bacteria that cause them, Campylobactria, are gram negative rods and are common wherever there is manure. There are lots of species and subspecies. The venereal subspecies is a cause of fertility loss in cattle, sheep and goats. The gastrointestinal species is common and is capable of causing scouring calves and at least occasional abortions in cattle. If you are starting to get confused at this point, just remember that the system is complex. I’ll try to stick with principles.

The Vibrio story

Most cattle that come in contact with the reproductive strain(s) of vibrio do so when they are bred. This is common since the organism tends to live in the vagina of cows and the prepuce of bulls. It is a true venereal disease. Remember that the older bulls have deeper crypts in the prepuce and therefore more organisms he carries around and shares during breeding.

The most common clinical sign or observation is that several younger girls come back in heat 30 to 45 days after they were first in heat and bred. The calf crop gets strung out. Operations that utilize short breeding seasons are the most negatively affected. People who are calving the year around seldom notice the disease problem.

For that reason, Vibrio tends to extend the calving season. A bunch of older cows are not affected, even though they have become carriers. Their vagina is "dirty" but the rest of their reproductive tract is immune and they are reproductively normal.

The management solutions for Vibrio/campylobacteriosis  include these seven concepts:

  1. Vaccines seem to be effective when a booster dose is given a month or so in front of the breeding season.

  2. Vaccines are unlikely to clear all of the carrier state of older bulls and /or cows.

  3. Vaccines and vaccination is a good idea especially in first-, second- and third-calf heifers and young cows. First-calf heifers need two doses, with the second dose given three to six weeks before breeding. Truth is that cows generally failing in immunity to most disease organisms is a sign that the vibrio isn’t around anymore or is infrequent.

  4. Bulls 2 and 3 years old that have received two or three doses of vaccine provide security.

  5. Older bulls on heifers and younger cows are seldom safe.

  6. Closed (completely closed) herds have few problems. Virgin bulls become a problem only after they go into service for extended seasons and years and reach maturity.

  7. Neighbor's bulls often introduce the disease.

Vibrio vaccine has been quite effective or at least we think it has. Good electric fences can help close the herd. Remember that vibrio is a venereal disease problem and manage accordingly.

I like using a bunch of young bulls for a several reasons. Vibrio is one of the reasons. But these young bulls must be capable of serving the girls. I’ll end up castrating most of the boys after they’ve done their business. A true steer is not going to carry vibrio. The market needs steers that have age so this program can work. I also tend to leave some bulls in the herd since pregnant females are often worth more dollars.

The trich story

Bovine trichomoniasis (trich) has received a lot of press, increased its geographic influence and has caused plenty of grief for a lot of producers for many years. Artificial Insemination studs have had problems. It is a protozoa and is considered to be a true venereal disease. Trich and Vibrio have been diagnosed in the same herd at the same time more than twice.

Generally speaking, trich ends a pregnancy several seeks later than Vibrio, often 60 to 100 days later. Often there are several “pus cows” and an astute cowman sees a tablespoonful of mayonnaise-looking discharge on the vulva or ground behind a cow when she’s lying down chewing her cud. Most of the cows clean up and breed back but it takes a while, maybe three months or more. Several remain open and non-cycling.

Trich has wreaked havoc in herds that leased bulls from lending companies. There have been dairies moved into bankruptcy by it. A.I. has not always worked successfully to prevent it.

I recommend an early diagnosis followed by culling these pus cows. Everything that’s open and will be kept gets a dose of prostaglandin and we rebreed with A.I. or bulls. Next year we use younger, virgin bulls and pay close attention. Our marketing and often our supplement plans need to change. Vaccines have not proven to be highly effective. False negatives have been common, so tests need to be done multiple times.

Remember that 2- and 3-year-old bulls do not tend to carry trich for long periods. Older bulls do.

Back in the old days I used to recommend keeping good bulls for a long time.  In closed herds most usually it seemed to work. But I don’t like buying and introducing new cattle anymore. Vibrio and trich are two of the reasons. Closed herds have advantages.

About the Author(s)

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke


R. P. "Doc" Cooke, DVM, is a mostly retired veterinarian from Sparta, Tennessee. Doc has been in the cattle business since the late 1970s and figures he's driven 800,000 miles, mostly at night, while practicing food animal medicine and surgery in five counties in the Upper Cumberland area of middle Tennessee. He says all those miles schooled him well in "man-made mistakes" and that his age and experiences have allowed him to be mentored by the area’s most fruitful and unfruitful "old timers." Doc believes these relationships provided him unfair advantages in thought and the opportunity to steal others’ ideas and tweak them to fit his operations. Today most of his veterinary work is telephone consultation with graziers in five or six states. He also writes and hosts ranching schools. He is a big believer in having fun while ranching but is serious about business and other producers’ questions. Doc’s operation, 499 Cattle Company, now has an annual stocking rate of about 500 pounds beef per acre of pasture and he grazes 12 months each year with no hay or farm equipment and less than two pounds of daily supplement. You can reach him by cell phone at (931) 256-0928 or at [email protected].

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