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Management practices to protect a herd against clostridial diseases

DL Step for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 January 2019

Eliminating spores that cause clostridial disease from a cattle herd’s environment is virtually impossible. Successful treatment of an infected animal is rare, and the first sign is usually death. However, with proper management and vaccination, producers can prevent losses associated with clostridial diseases.

The clostridial diseases are a group of mostly fatal infections caused by bacteria belonging to a group called clostridia spp. These organisms have the ability to create protective, shell-like forms called spores when exposed to adverse conditions.

This allows the microorganism to remain potentially infective in soils for long periods of time, and to present a real danger to livestock. Many of the organisms in this group are also normally present in the intestines of both humans and animals.

Prevent disease through risk management

Given the prevalence of sudden mortality caused by clostridial diseases, it is important to work with a veterinarian to understand the risk in your area and plan accordingly. If you know your cattle are at risk, examine your management practices, and make efforts to:

1. Properly dispose of an infected carcass. Although clostridial diseases are technically not contagious, infected cattle can spread the disease-causing spores in pastures and feedyards, increasing the risk of a future outbreak. So appropriately disposing of any animal carcasses is critical to minimize the spread of clostridial diseases.

2. Support natural immunity. For calves, that includes making sure they get a good amount of colostrum to help fight all diseases. For all cattle, minimizing their stress in transport, handling, processing, etc. will help them resist infections and disease.

3. Control factors that may allow clostridial spores to replicate and release toxins in the animal’s blood or organs. The various disease-causing agents take advantage of damage to tissues or changes in the internal environment such as in the digestive tract, so vigilance is key in several areas:

a. In young calves, ensure consistent eating habits. Changes in eating habits such as sudden overeating (gorging) can cause a partial slowdown or stoppage of intestinal tract movement. This can create an opportunity for disease-causing spores to proliferate and produce toxins that can be absorbed in the gut.

Colostridial bacterium and diseases

For example, young calves may overeat after they have been separated from their dams for a period of time. This situation may create the right conditions for enterotoxemia to develop and quickly become fatal to the calf, often within hours.

b. Make sure drylots and pastures are free from objects that may cause puncture wounds and bruising, and that any surgical procedures are performed as cleanly as possible with proper technique. The Cl. tetani bacteria in the clostridial family are generally introduced through wounds and produce powerful toxins that lead to, in many cases, death. Black disease, which is almost always fatal, is also thought to gain entrance into the body through an infected wound, or possibly orally.

The critical role of vaccines

Perhaps the most effective preventive measure that can be taken against clostridial diseases is vaccination. Start by working with your veterinarian to develop a protocol best suited for your operation’s needs.

Many vaccination strategies target the pregnant cow so that immunity can be transferred to the calf in the colostrum. Then you vaccinate calves with a single-dose, 7-way clostridium vaccine at 3 to 4 months of age to protect the calf.

In addition, to maximize the value of today’s vaccines, follow label directions and Beef Quality Assurance guidelines on proper handling and administration. These include everything from keeping vaccines cool, to using the proper dose and needle, to administering with the right injection technique. If not following protocols, you can be wasting your investment and, worse, allowing your cattle to be susceptible to potentially fatal disease pathogens.  end mark

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Dr. DL Step
  • Dr. DL Step

  • Professional Services Veterinarian
  • Boehringer Ingelheim
  • Email Dr. DL Step

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