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Disease testing new additions to a herd

Veterinarian Dr. Rosslyn Biggs discusses important considerations before adding to the herd.

Farm Press Staff

September 21, 2021

3 Min Read
Shelley E. Huguley

Adding new herd members represents a significant investment, requiring time evaluating pedigrees, genomics and phenotypic appearance. But understanding the health of the individual animal is essential as well, says Rosslyn Biggs, DVM, beef cattle specialist and director of continuing education, Oklahoma State University.

rosslyn_biggs_1800.jpgRosslyn Biggs, DVM, beef cattle specialist and director of continuing education, Oklahoma State University.(Photo courtesy of OSU.)

"The addition of any new animal creates the potential to introduce disease into the resident herd," says Biggs in the latest Veterinary Viewpoints newsletter. "Work with your veterinarian to develop a protocol to help prevent this. The protocol can specify the required testing of all new additions whether purchased, leased or borrowed.

"A testing plan for new additions will likely be based on a producer’s willingness to accept the risk of disease introduction combined with the known prevalence of disease, geographic origin of cattle and the seller’s provided or guaranteed health history,"  Biggs says. "It is always best for buyers to request a written health history of the prospects. Vaccination status, deworming history, reproductive evaluation and specific disease testing should be included."

New bulls

For new bulls, Biggs says buyers should require written documentation of a timely breeding soundness evaluation (BSE) conducted by a veterinarian following the standards established by the Society for Theriogenology (SFT). "A complete BSE involves a physical examination, reproductive tract examination and semen evaluation. Sampling for reproductive infectious diseases such as Tritrichomonas foetus and Campylobacter fetus should also be strongly considered for all non-virgin bulls."


Bull pasture. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

Adding replacement females also requires a reproductive assessment. "Reproductive tract scoring may be a helpful evaluation when considering replacement heifers," Biggs says. "If the female has been artificially inseminated or exposed to a bull, confirmation and stage of pregnancy should be determined. Testing for reproductive infectious diseases may also be warranted.

"Depending on pedigree, buyers of bulls and replacement females may also want DNA marker testing for heritable diseases causing genetic abnormalities like tibial hemimelia (TH) and pulmonary hypoplasia with anasarca (PHA)."

While these diseases are not infectious, Biggs says the introduction of these genetics by a single sire or several closely related females can have a significant negative impact. "In most instances, carriers of defects should not be used in a breeding program. If they must be used due to superior genetics, breeders must be intentional and strategic on crosses."


Prior to purchasing or adding individual animals to the operation, Biggs says seedstock and commercial cow-calf producers may want to discuss herd veterinarian testing for the following diseases:

  • Bovine Viral Diarrhea

  • Johne’s Disease

  • Bovine Leukemia

  • Tuberculosis

  • Brucellosis

  • Leptospirosis

  • Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis

  • Bluetongue

  • Anaplasmosis

"Additional testing requirements and a certificate of veterinary inspection may be required if new animals are traveling interstate. Interstate requirements should be confirmed with the state of destination prior to shipment. Interstate movement requirements can be found at," Biggs says.

"Even if a new introduction receives a clean report after testing and shipment, it is still recommended that the animal undergo a minimum two-week isolation before exposure to the resident herd as part of a good biosecurity plan. Following the protocol developed by the herd veterinarian will help prevent the introduction of new diseases and protect the producer’s investment."

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