The long-term effects of spreading trichomoniasis, commonly referred to as trich, in a cattle herd can be much more devastating than simply having a number of cows open at the end of the breeding season, according to Boehringer Ingelheim.
“A small percentage of pregnancies will be affected the first year, but it’s typically the second or third year of a trich infection that really causes the economic losses,” said Dr. Joe Gillespie with Boehringer Ingelheim. “With multiple infected bulls breeding cows, you can see more than 50% of your cows open, which results in a huge reduction in production and profitability for a cow/calf producer.”
Cattle infected with trich continue to appear and act normally, so testing is the only way to confirm the presence or absence of this sexually transmitted disease in a herd, Boehringer Ingelheim said. To diagnose the disease, a preputial fluid sample is taken from the sheath of the bull’s penis.
Prior to breeding, Gillespie recommends testing bulls with one or both of the following methods:
1. A pouch culture is considered the “gold standard” of trichomoniasis testing methods, allowing the protozoa collected from preputial or vaginal samples to grow in a special medium.
“If you find a positive result with this test, you can have a great deal of confidence that you have a trich-infected animal,” Gillespie said. “Advantages of this test include ease of use and quick results, but occasionally, the culturing method will result in a false negative. This happens when the particular sample collected does not contain Tritrichomonas foetus organisms, but they are, in fact, still present in the animal.”
2. The other option uses a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which recognizes RNA or DNA fragments from trich-causing protozoa to confirm if cattle have been exposed to the disease.
“PCR testing doesn’t tell you if you have an active trich infection, but it can tell you if you have a history of trich infection in your herd,” Gillespie explained.
Ideally, trich testing will accompany an annual breeding soundness examination and be conducted by a certified veterinarian.
In addition to testing bulls prior to turnout each year, successful management typically requires a combination of protocols, which often include:
- Testing bulls for trich three weeks after the breeding season, and culling any newly infected bulls;
- Maintaining a closed herd or thoroughly evaluating cattle entering the herd for risk of trich;
- Administering a vaccine that helps protect against the spread of trich;
- Using artificial insemination, and
- Practicing strict biosecurity measures.
“The economic impact of trichomoniasis is devastating, but you can prevent or overcome an outbreak by adhering to strategic management and prevention practices,” Gillespie said. “I’ve seen a producer with a 50% herd pregnancy rate get back to 90% by implementing a management plan that included a vaccination program and strictly using new, clean bulls or artificial insemination.”
It’s important to note that the risk of developing a trich infection varies among herds, so effective prevention and management protocols do not look the same for every operation. Furthermore, trich testing regulations vary by state. Gillespie strongly encourages producers to work with a local veterinarian to design a comprehensive trich testing and management plan unique to their herd.