As beef cattle operations navigate the spring calving season and consider goals for the next breeding season, sexually transmitted diseases warrant consideration, especially trichomoniasis.
“Trichomoniasis, or trich, is a sexually transmitted disease that has the ability to cut a calf crop in half,” according to Dr. John Davidson, senior associate director of beef professional veterinary services at Boehringer Ingelheim. “A bull’s value can be wiped out in a single service with an infected cow or heifer.”
Infected animals may show no outward signs, which is why trich often goes unnoticed until it’s too late, he said. When bulls are infected with trich, it is considered a lifelong infection with no legal treatment. While cows can clear the disease, they will likely experience reproductive failures such as infertility, low pregnancy rates, abortions and pyometra.
Producers with little to no understanding of trich are more than three times more likely to have trichomoniasis in their herd, Boehringer Ingelheim said in an announcement. The company suggested that cattle producers take a moment to learn about trich and work with a veterinarian to put a prevention plan in place that includes testing, bull selection, recordkeeping, biosecurity measures and vaccination.
Bull selection, testing
“Since trich is physically undetectable in bulls, testing before turnout is an absolute must,” Davidson emphasized. “A bull’s ticket to change breeding groups or even enter a breeding pasture must be a negative trich test.”
To reduce the likelihood of trich introduction, avoid purchasing untested, non-virgin bulls. Although bulls of any age are susceptible, older bulls are more likely to be infected.
“I also suggest that large operations in at-risk areas conduct post-breeding testing on bulls,” Davidson added. “Prior to testing, sexual rest should be observed for two to three weeks to improve the chances of detecting an infected bull.” If one bull is confirmed to have trich, it’s critical to test all other bulls on an operation.
Neighboring herds can also be a source of spreading the disease, especially those that utilize open-range grazing. “Stay in touch with neighbors to learn if trichomoniasis has been identified or tested for,” Davidson said. “In the same way, be a good neighbor yourself, and talk to your veterinarian about testing.”
Oftentimes, it takes experience with a trich outbreak and the devastating losses that come with it before the value of vaccination is realized, Boehringer Ingelheim said. In heifers, the transmission rate of infection was reported to be 95% after a single mating with an infected three-year-old bull.
Davidson noted that while there is no legal treatment for food animals with trich, a vaccine is available that has been proved to reduce the shedding of Tritrichomonas foetus, the disease-causing organism. Proper administration timing is critical for cattle to receive the intended benefits of a vaccine, he added.
In a large ranch with multiple breeding pastures, it’s important to know which cows and bulls have been in each pasture, Davidson said. Ear tags and other identification systems are helpful to keep track of breeding exposure for bulls and cows.