April is Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month, and cows should not be left out of the conversation. “Trichomoniasis, or trich, is a sexually transmitted disease that has the ability to cut a calf crop in half,” stated Dr. John Davidson, DVM, senior associate director of beef professional veterinary services, 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. 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 over three times more likely to have trichomoniasis in their herd. Take a moment during STD Awareness Month to learn about trich, and work with a veterinarian to put a prevention plan in place that includes testing, bull selection, record keeping, biosecurity measures and vaccination.
Bull selection and testing
“Since trich is physically undetectable in bulls, testing before turnout is an absolute must,” stressed Davidson. “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. Though 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,” advised Davidson. “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.
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.”
Vaccination and record keeping
Oftentimes, it takes experience with a trich outbreak and the devastating losses that come with it before the value of vaccination is realized. In heifers, the transmission rate of infection was reported to be 95% after a single mating with a 3-year-old infected bull.
Davidson notes that while there is no legal treatment for food animals with trich, there is a vaccine available proven to reduce the shedding of Tritrichomonas foetus, the disease-causing organism. He encourages producers to read and follow the vaccine label closely. Proper administration timing is critical for cattle to receive the intended benefits of a vaccine.
In a large ranch with multiple breeding pastures, it’s important to know which cows and bulls have been in each pasture. Ear tags and other identification systems are helpful to keep track of breeding exposure for bulls and cows.