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On the Edge of Common Sense: My introduction to Trichomoniasis foetus

Contributed by Baxter Black Published on 21 July 2017

I was the veterinarian for a livestock company in the Northwest. We had 10,000 cows on six ranches in five states with a progressive, well-managed cow-calf operation. The year was 1976.

In October, I preg tested our cows in Owyhee County, Idaho. The conception rate was 92 percent. Albert managed that set of 2,000 cows, and he was concerned … it should have been 94 percent. We discussed it. I thought 92 percent was pretty good, and he conceded the range was worse than last year. I made no effort to find a cause.

The next fall, we worked the cattle again, and the conception was down to 90 percent. Albert had been right. I learned a lesson and set about seeking an answer. I must say infertility and abortion in big herds is very difficult to confirm.

I went through the testable diseases: vibrio, lepto, IBR, poison plants, selenium, foothill abortion, metabolic disorders – and finally trichomoniasis.

It was a wild long shot. I had never diagnosed it, nor had I ever heard of anyone who did. But I went through the collection procedure on 12 head of Albert’s bulls. I had a small laboratory and was good at parasitology in vet school.

There under my microscope, swimming across the petri dish, was a one-celled protozoan with flagellae breast-stroking itself across my screen.

I examined all of the dishes several times and found it in two more bull samples. Over the next month, I called several authorities, professors, state veterinarians and recommended cow vets. To a man, each told me it didn’t exist anymore; it had been eradicated; my sample was a rumen contaminant; it hadn’t been seen since the ’30s.

To humor me, my parasitology professor offered to send me some Diamond media to send back samples. I did. He was stunned. It was like I had struck oil or won the Super Bowl. After the discovery smoke had cleared, I set out to find a cure. The old vet books said trich is related to the protozoan that causes blackhead in turkeys.

Let me condense the next several months: I diagnosed trich at every ranch; positive bulls were culled; all others were treated individually, orally with a 16-ounce dosing syringe; black bucket, caught, haltered, head pulled up with a 10-foot A frame with block and tackle, and tied it to my rear bumper for five days in a row.

Sarcastic remark: It really got fun by the third day.

I put on meetings for the neighbors, the local vets, the state cattlemen; I became a minor authority. The lesson I learned was to pay attention to Albert. I read articles nowadays discussing the control, prevention and treatment of trich.

To me it seemed a monumental task, but the hard way was the only way. I remember a call from a cattleman in Las Vegas, Nevada, whose herd had been diagnosed positive. He was griping about having to treat his bulls: so much work, what a pain, is there any other way … he went on and on.

Finally, I said, “Just quit yer cryin’, bite the bullet and man up, for goodness sake.”

He said, “You don’t understand … my bulls are Longhorns.”  end mark

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