NORMAN — Excellent rainfall during 2013 across much of Oklahoma allowed drought-stressed pastures to rebound. These rainfall events in central and eastern parts of our state saw many ranchers rebuilding cattle numbers.
While rebuilding, many producers have had to make decisions about bulls for the next breeding season. While doing so, herd health and reproductive disease have been major considerations in the context of what age and type of bulls are being purchased.
Perhaps the one reproductive disease for which bulls play a critical role in transmission is that of Trichomoniasis, or “trich.” This disease has been around for generations and, for many years, was thought to be something only states west of the Rocky Mountains had to be concerned with. This is not the case today; many states now have this disease within their borders.
Trich is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease in cattle that results in abortions and infertility and is caused by a microscopic protozoan parasite Tritrichomonas foetus. The organism colonizes in both bulls and cows, and as bulls age, conditions on the surface of reproductive organs are more conducive for this protozoa to survive and multiply.
Infected bulls and cows look and act normal. The only way to confirm Trichomoniasis infection is by testing. Typically, cattle producers become aware of a problem when cows are pregnancy checked and there are too many open cows, a prolonged calving period or noticeably reduced calf crop.
Reabsorption of the fetus or abortion usually occurs early (one to four months) in pregnancy and females become temporarily infertile. Late-term abortions have been reported but are not common. The majority of infected cows will clear the infection within four to five months of sexual rest.
Immunity to Trichomoniasis is short-lived, and cows are susceptible to reinfection and abortion the following season. Some cows will not clear the infection. Bulls become infected with the Trichomoniasis protozoa when breeding infected females. Those bulls younger than 3 may clear the infection, but bulls older than 3 are generally permanently infected.
Although the primary impact of Trichomoniasis is reduced fertility in cows and cows spread the infection to bulls, Oklahoma Trichomoniasis regulations center on bulls. Bulls act as a reservoir for this organism and are the primary method of transmission.
Identification of infected bulls is critical. Producers should work closely with a veterinarian who is certified to collect samples for the necessary testing to identify any Trichomoniasis infected bulls in their herds.
The most effective way to control Trichomoniasis is to prevent the introduction of the organism into a herd. This is primarily accomplished through testing all new bulls prior to entry into the herd and preventing unwanted bulls from entering through damaged fence lines.
Keeping young bulls rather than older ones and testing all bulls prior to each breeding season are also important tools. Establishing a defined breeding season and early pregnancy diagnosis will aid in rapid detection of reproductive losses caused by Trichomoniasis.
As with most infectious diseases, a biosecurity plan is critical to preventing introduction and/or controlling the organism within a herd.
A vaccine for Trichomoniasis is available and labeled for use in controlling the disease in cows. The vaccine will reduce the reproductive losses associated with the disease and may reduce the time it takes a cow to clear the infection.
However, in most herds, managing the risk factors for Trichomoniasis through biosecurity is less more effective than vaccination. Producers are encouraged to work with their veterinarian to develop appropriate protocols for controlling Trichomoniasis and other reproductive diseases in their herds.
For bulls entering Oklahoma, applicable tuberculosis and/or brucellosis entry, requirements must be met and the shipment must have a valid Certificate of Veterinary Inspection. For more information regarding Oklahoma entry requirements, call the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, Forestry’s (ODAFF) permit line at 522-6141 or visit oda.state.ok.us.
More information on management of the disease can be obtained from your local veterinarian, Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory or the Animal Industry Division of Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry.
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension and Oklahoma State University offer their programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability or status as a veteran and is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
Heath Herje is an agriculture educator with Cleveland County Cooperative Extension service.
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