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Blackleg outbreak threat tied to weather

Weather and soil disturbances can affect clostridial diseases and what beef cattle producers can do to prevent blackleg.

From blizzards to torrential flooding, dramatic weather continues to challenge cattle producers, but there’s a threat that may not be top of mind: blackleg, according to Boehringer Ingelheim.

“Blackleg can occur after flooding, and sometimes we’ve even seen outbreaks of blackleg after dirt work or excavating has been done on the farm,” said Dr. Daniel Cummings, a veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim. “The clostridial spores will rise to the top of the soil, and then we get an increased risk of animals ingesting those infective spores.”

Cummings noted that outbreaks can also occur after prolonged dry spells followed by heavy rainfall.

Clinical signs of blackleg include fever, depression, tremoring or even loss of appetite. According to Cummings, these signs are difficult to identify and often are not observed within a herd. Many times, the first sign of disease is the acute or sudden death of cattle.

“Most of the time, blackleg affects well-conditioned or well-nourished cattle ranging from ages six to 18 months,” Cummings said.

Finding a successful treatment for blackleg is rare, so taking preventive measures is critical, he said.

“We rely heavily on prevention through vaccination; however, this year, we haven’t vaccinated cattle as we normally would, according to the herd health calendar, due to weather challenges,” Cummings noted. “I think this may be a contributing factor as to why we’re seeing an increase in blackleg cases.”

To protect against blackleg and other fatal clostridial diseases, Cummings recommended vaccinating with a single-dose, seven-way clostridium vaccine.

“The clostridium vaccines are very effective because they stimulate an adequate immune response to protect against blackleg,” Cummings said. “Blackleg is one of the few diseases in cattle that can be prevented quite well with vaccination, because our vaccines are considered to be highly effective and safe.”

If a producer suspects or experiences blackleg disease in their herd triggered by factors that may include flooding, dirt excavation or extreme weather conditions, the first step should be contacting the veterinarian. Working with a veterinarian will help determine the most effective vaccine protocol to improve overall herd health, Boehringer Ingelheim said.

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