From early embryonic deaths to lower pregnancy rates, stillbirths, abortions and even weakened calves, Leptospira hardjo-bovis affects all stages of beef cattle reproduction. With these reproductive inefficiencies and minimal clinical signs, the presence of leptospirosis can quickly affect herd profitability, according to Boehringer Ingelheim.
“The financial impact of leptospirosis can be huge, especially in cow/calf operations,” said Dr. Jody Wade, a veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim. “If cows aren’t able to produce a healthy calf every year, it’s going to cost producers a lot of money down the line.”
Leptospira outbreaks are most common in spring and summer, and the bacteria can survive in the environment for months. A recent study conducted in six states representing a cross-section of climates and management practices found that Lepto hardjo-bovis was prevalent in 42% of U.S. cattle herds and was more likely to be found in warmer, wetter climates, Boehringer Ingelheim said in an announcement.
With the unusual weather patterns many cattle producers have seen this year, implementing Lepto hardjo-bovis prevention strategies will be key in protecting reproductive efficiency and maintaining a profitable operation down the road, Wade said, recommending the following management practices to help ensure reproductive success in beef herds this summer:
1. Minimize standing water. Unfortunately, Lepto hardjo-bovis is most commonly spread via urinary shedding, making it easily transmissible. Water tanks, pastures, ponds and streams accessed by infected cattle can all be contaminated with Leptospira. If cattle are drinking the water containing leptospirosis pathogens and have not built up prior immunity to the disease, they will likely be infected, Wade said.
In fact, the odds of the disease developing are nearly two times greater in operations where ponds and stock tanks are used as the main water source, since the pathogen can survive for extended periods in stagnant water.
To prevent the transmission of Lepto hardjo-bovis, Wade suggested draining or fencing off low-lying or swampy areas so cattle do not have access to standing water. He also encouraged producers to clean water tanks routinely, because they can hold leptospirosis bacteria for a long time.
“It can be difficult to prevent cattle from drinking infected water, especially if producers are unaware leptospirosis is present in their herd,” Wade explained. “Maintaining a fresh water source for cows to drink from will help decrease the likelihood of them ingesting Lepto hardjo-bovis bacteria.”
2. Practice strict sanitation. Control of rodents, feral swine populations and canine hosts is strongly encouraged, since wild animals can serve as maintenance hosts and expose cattle to the bacteria, Wade said. Keeping pens clean and isolating cows that have aborted for treatment will also help prevent the spread of leptospirosis.
3. Vaccinate cattle prior to breeding. While urinary shedding is the most common way for leptospirosis to spread, the infection can also be passed through reproductive fluids, uterine discharges, infected placenta, milk and semen.
“Because there are so many ways cattle can be exposed to Lepto hardjo-bovis, the most effective preventive strategy is to implement a complete reproductive vaccination program,” Wade said.
To increase the likelihood of successful pregnancies, Wade recommended vaccinating cattle with a combination vaccine that is labeled to prevent urinary shedding of Lepto hardjo-bovis. Vaccinations are especially important for heifers, as their lifetime production hinges on a successful first pregnancy.
“Treatment for leptospirosis is available, but producers will spend a lot of money and time trying to eliminate the infection after it has already been established in their herd,” Wade concluded. “Vaccinating 20-30 days prior to breeding will allow enough time for cattle to develop a strong immune response to leptospira and will help protect all stages of reproduction before it’s too late.”