Wet Conditions May Increase Profit-Robbing Organisms

Published on: 09:40AM Jun 15, 2009

By Dan Goehl, DVM

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The wet conditions this year have led to many issues, but one problem more commonly seen in wet conditions is coccidiosis. 

Coccidiosis is a disease affecting the lower intestinal tract of cattle. Coccidiosis is much more prevalent in younger cattle and is life threatening to cattle under a year of age. This tiny one-celled organism causes significant economic loss every year in the cattle industry. Early clinical signs can consist of blood tinged or mucus in the stool. Producers may be familiar with the presentation of coccidiosis in which a calf has bloody diarrhea but just as important economically is the subclinical case. These are calves that have coccidian but are not presenting with bloody stool. These calves can be unthrifty or suffer from poor performance. 

Cattle suffering from subclinical cases of coccidiosis are secretly robbing the bottom line. Making this disease even more adept at avoiding detection is its ability to be present in the intestinal tract but not be shed in fecal material.  The number of eggs in the fecal can be affected by the stage of development of the parasite in the calf. Because of this we can get false negative fecal test. That is, fecal results that do not show the organism even though it is being harbored in the calf.

The entire life cycle of coccidia takes only 21 days. An over simplification of the life cycle can be summarized: calves ingest coccidial oocysts that hatch in the intestine and as they develop into “mature” stages they cause damage to the intestine. This damage keeps the animal from utilizing nutrients and causes blood loss. These animals also have a compromised immune system and can be more susceptible to Bovine Respiratory Disease and other ailments.  Eggs are then shed and the entire process repeats itself. 

Control of coccidia infections can be broken into treatment and control. Husbandry can be very important in preventing infection. The organism sheds the eggs via fecal material and the calf, or numerous calves, are then infected when they ingest the eggs. The most  effective route of transfer is when the cattle defecate in the water supply. All efforts should be made to keep fecal material out of the water. It is also important to remove fecal material from bunks, mineral feeder,s etc. It is also prudent to try and avoid standing water and letting the cattle have access to it. This along with medications will control coccidia in most cases. 

It is common in our practice to assume infection in certain classifications of cattle. Visit with your veterinarian about how to handle this economically important issue in your operation. 

Dan Goehl, DVM, and his wife own and operate Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, MO, where Dan works primarily with stocker and cow/calf beef operations. Dan is also partner in Professional Beef Services, LLC, which offers herd consultation and helps in data management and marketing of beef cattle.

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