STDs in cattle can cause calf loss

RBC | Springtime means many things for local ranchers; calving, branding and a renewed focus on herd health. For many, ranchers an important piece of the herd health puzzle. They regularly test bulls for a variety of diseases, including the dreaded trichomoniasis.
“If you look at the average cost of a calf right now, the loss of just one calf in a cow crop is significant,” said former Utah State Veterinarian Dr. Warren Hess. Hess believes that mandatory disease testing for bulls can prevent this loss.
The sexually transmitted trichomoniasis, commonly referred to as trich, is a disease feared by producers everywhere due to its highly contagious nature and lack of treatment. In cows the disease takes hold in the uterus causing abortions and infertility. Bulls carry the disease in the folds and crevices of their sheath. As a bull ages the number of folds increase, making older bulls more likely carry the disease. Because bulls show no outward signs of infection detection can be difficult.
Testing bulls for trich requires the assistance of a veterinarian and a small amount of preparation. Bulls should be sexually inactive for two weeks prior to testing to allow for the infected organisms to build up, making detection easier. On the day of testing bulls are typically loaded into a squeeze chute where the veterinarian then inserts a pipette into the sheath and collects a scraping. The sample is sent to a lab where the status of infection is determined. Nationally the cost of trich testing including vet fees averages between $24-$50 per bull depending on location.
Because of the potential rapid spread of trich many states have set strict testing guidelines for the disease. Currently 28 states have instituted some level of regulation to try and control the disease. Colorado currently requires that bulls imported from the majority of other states be tested before entering the state. However, if bringing in a bull from Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas or New Mexico that is less than 18 months old, the test is optional.
Some neighboring states take the requirements further. Utah, for instance, requires that all bulls imported over 12 months of age be tested. Additionally, they require that every bull residing in the state be tested annually sometime between the months of October and April. Failure to meet the guidelines will cost the owner $1,000 per incident.
Hess believes that the mandated trich tests are vital not only to herd health, but also to the local economy. “You get trich into a whole herd and you can potentially have 30-40 percent calf loss. Statewide that’s millions of dollars in lost revenue.” As for taking a regulatory approach instead of encouraging voluntary testing, Hess believes that the regulations are essential to disease containment. “Most producers are unwilling to permanently tag bulls, so it can be difficult to know the status of a bull at any given time.”
Whether these regulations are effective is up for debate. During the 2011-2012 testing season Utah reported 10 cases of trich. Since then the number has steadily increased with 23 reported cases in the 2013-2014 season.
One group that is trying to bring these vast differences in required trich testing between the states into a more harmonious alignment is the United States Animal Health Association (USAHA). In 2014 the USAHA passed a resolution with the goal of uniting the states under a common trich testing policy. The concise resolution urges each state to consider adopting a policy requiring all imported bulls over 18 months in age to be tested. Six states are currently consistent with the policy and another 21 have agreed to implement the regulations within the next five years. Some states, including Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona, have responded that they do not plan to align with the standards.
As the livestock industry progresses there is potential for improved testing and detection for high impact diseases such as trich. Coupled with the possibility of more unified trich testing regulations, the future of herd health and disease prevention looks encouraging with fewer calves lost, a benefit to ranchers and consumers alike.