The Importance of Third-Trimester Nutrition in Beef Cattle

By Cattle, Cow-Calf No Comments

The third trimester of a cow’s pregnancy places great demands on her body that were not experienced during the first two trimesters. The third trimester starts at around 90 – 95 days prior to calving. Between cold late winter weather and the rapidly increasing requirements of the growing calf, the whole nutritional picture must be taken into account to ensure a healthy mother and baby.

The Role of Body Condition Score (BCS) in Cow-Calf Health

The body condition score (BCS) is a simple, inexpensive, and accurate means of determining whether a cow is properly utilizing feed and has enough fat, muscle, and energy stores. In the United States and Canada, the BCS scale runs from 1 through 5 (or 1 through 9), with one being an animal that is in very poor condition and five (or 9) being obese. The BCS of a cow going into the third trimester will help determine how well she and the calf will fair in the coming months. A BCS of 3 – 4 (5 – 6) is optimal for a cow entering the third trimester.

Cows with marginal or even low BCS will require a much higher level of supplementation than those animals that enter their third trimester in ideal body condition. Even then, complications such as a stillbirth or inability to breed back are possible.

The chart below is provided with permission by noble.org. To download or view full-size version, click here.

Vital nutrients for late-pregancy cows

There are a number of nutrients that must be available in adequate amounts to support the proper growth of a fetus while also nourishing the cow. These needs will continue to increase until birth, making it imperative that those requirements are met.


Protein is a vital building block for every system of a growing calf. To maintain proper muscle and support organs, cows must also be receiving enough protein without the calf’s increasing needs drawing on her reserves.

Protein can be found in forages such as alfalfa or formulated feeds such as lick tubs or cubes. Forage in some areas may provide adequate protein but it is always a good idea to have testing done to make sure that nutrient levels are optimal and to identify any gaps so they can be supplemented.


Carbohydrates provide the energy necessary for daily activity; they are also required for the proper function of organs and body systems. In addition, they help maintain essential fat reserves that keep a cow in a positive energy balance.

Most high-quality forages will provide decent levels of energy. If, however, the forage quality has declined over the winter or there simply isn’t enough available, supplementation is likely needed. This can be provided through the addition of tubs, distillers grains, cubes, or other energy sources.


Certain vitamins are an important part of the development of a healthy fetus. Vitamins A and E, particularly, should be available in sufficient quantities. Vitamin A is needed by both the mother and her calf – if her colostrum is rich in Vitamin A, the calf’s likelihood of developing scours decreases. For the mother, successful post-partum expulsion of the placenta has been linked to an adequate intake of Vitamin A.

Cows require Vitamin E to improve Vitamin A absorption, in addition to minerals such as selenium. White muscle disease in calves is usually due to the mother having a Vitamin E deficiency during her pregnancy, and as such, not absorbing necessary levels of selenium.

Both Vitamins A and E can be found in forages; lush green pastures and hay. Aging hay and forage will likely have lower-than-ideal levels of these vitamins, so supplementation with alfalfa meal or even loose vitamin/mineral supplements might be needed for the pregnant cow to receive the quantities she needs.


Determining which minerals should be supplemented in pregnant cows depends on a wide variety of factors. Trace mineral levels are often dictated by the soil in which feed and forage was grown. By default, however, pregnant cows will require an increase in their calcium and magnesium intake to support fetal bone growth and prepare for lactation.

Regional mineral formulas are an excellent way to provide your pregnant cows with the minerals they need. Both block and loose mineral forms work well and will allow animals to self-regulate and consume as much as they need.

The Homestretch

The nutritional support a cow receives in the final months of her pregnancy will invariably influence the health of both mother and calf. Colostrum quality from a nutrient-deficient cow will not provide the support the calf will need, making it doubly important to pay special attention to third-trimester nutrition.

Adequate high-quality feed, water, and supplementation (as needed), will be the key factors in a successful calving season for both mothers and babies.

Shedding of Disease-causing Pathogens in Cattle

By Acidosis and Shipping Fever, Cattle, Cow-Calf, Feedlot, Pre-Conditioning No Comments

Almost every multi-celled organism on the planet is capable of shedding pathogens of one sort or another. In environments with large, dense populations, such as those of cattle, shedding of disease-causing viruses and bacteria can cause widespread disease rapidly. An understanding of how shedding occurs amongst cattle provides insight into preventing the outbreak of disease and consequential profit loss.

What is shedding?

Shedding is the expulsion of disease-causing microorganisms into the environment. When a pathogen has matured and reproduced within the host’s body, it must find a way to spread. Some of the most common ways cattle shed these germs is through their manure, coughing and sneezing and sharing common feeding and watering areas. When there are multiple animals living within close quarters, the likelihood of widespread infection increases.

How does shedding occur?

Viral, bacterial and fungal shedding occur via a variety of routes – pathogens can be introduced into the environment via the GI tract (Escherichia coli), respiratory tract (bovine respiratory syncytial virus – BRSV), oro-nasal (foot-and-mouth disease virus – FMDV and Mycobacterium bovis), ocular (infectious conjunctivitis – pink eye), reproductive tract (brucellosis) and even through the skin and hooves (dermatophytosis – ring worm).

Respiratory Tract

Shedding via the respiratory tract is perhaps the most common cause of infection in cattle. Secretions such as saliva and mucus can be aerosolized when an animal coughs or even just breathes, forcing millions of disease-causing pathogens into the environment. Some of these diseases are airborne and must be inhaled by other animals to cause infection, while others can land on fur or other surfaces and be taken into the nasal or oral cavity and lead to infection.

The incidence of transmission (particularly with inhaled microorganisms) increases exponentially when there are close quarters, such as a cattle transport or crowded pens at a sale barn or feedlot. Animals that are stressed and compromised will be more likely to contract diseases in these environments than those that are healthy and in a positive energy balance.

GI Tract

GI tract shedding is another common route for infection, as manure is regularly excreted into the environment and animals will tread through it, lay in and then, while browsing or cleaning themselves or each other, ingest the pathogens contained in the infected manure. Another issue is housing that is not frequently cleaned of excrement. Microorganisms can thrive in wet conditions, populating not just the fecal matter but the soil, as well. Feed bunks and watering sources may become contaminated with infected feces or soil, creating an even larger problem, as the majority of animals in a given space will be exposed.

Bacterial infections are of particular concern with this route of spread. Viral contagions often cannot live outside of a host for extended periods of time; however, many bacterial agents are capable of living in a non-host environment for extended periods of time and through extreme weather fluctuations. Therefore, infections such as Salmonella sp. and E. coli can get out-of-hand so quickly.

Oro-nasal Route

Some infectious microorganisms are spread easily via the oro-nasal route through saliva and mucous membrane secretions. This includes diseases such as foot-and-mouth-disease virus (FMDV) and Bovine papular stomatitis. An animal must come in direct contact with the contaminated surface, such as feed bunks or through licking or touching noses with an infected animal.

Ocular Route

Certain diseases such as pink eye are spread through contact with contaminated secretions from the eyes, and to a lesser extent the nose and mouth, due to the structure of the nasolacrimal ducts. The majority of eye infections in cattle are caused by bacteria. The most common means of spread for these infections is direct contact or rubbing of faces on fences, feeders, etc. It is also possible for these secretions to be deposited on grass or brush where other cattle may frequent and become exposed.

Genital Route

Brucellosis sp. are commonly shed through the reproductive tract in cattle. Placental fluids and vaginal discharges of infected cows can infect other cattle that may lick the infected animal. Feed and water sources can also become easily contaminated, creating the potential for widespread infection.

Additionally, there are numerous venereal diseases that can be shed but are only spread through the mating of infected animals, making these pathogens less likely to affect feedlot operators.

While the shedding of infectious microorganisms cannot be completely prevented, measures can be taken to help keep the impact to a minimum. Reducing stresses on animals, including providing high-quality feed and clean water, a calm environment and proper handling and a solid sick treatment protocol can go a long way towards helping prevent disease outbreaks in cattle operations.

The Impact of Mannheimia haemolytica on the High-Risk Herd

By Acidosis and Shipping Fever, Cattle, Feedlot No Comments

Mannheimia haemolytica is a bacterial contagion that is one of the main organisms responsible for the broader scope of bovine respiratory disease (BRD). M. haemolytica is frequently found in conjunction with Pasteurella multocida, with both bacteria typically presenting as secondary infections in compromised animals (most commonly following viral infections or significant stress events). It often leads to pneumonia, causing irreversible lung damage in the infected cow.

Prevalence of M. haemolytica in the Feedlot Setting

While M. haemolytica is fairly common to find in the living environments and upper respiratory tracts of most healthy cattle without causing issues, it does lead to secondary infections amongst compromised high-risk feeder cattle. In the case of M. haemolytica, it is responsible for pneumonia that can, at best damage the lungs, and at worst result in mortality of the infected individual.

In a study from the University of Georgia1, nasopharyngeal swabs (NPS) were taken during processing from a group of 169 high-risk feeder, sale barn bull and steer calves. They were also given the macrolide antimicrobial tulathromycin (2.5 mg/kg SQ) upon arrival at processing. Of those cattle, 27 (16%) swabbed positive for M. haemolytica (with 1 cow or 3.7% swabbing positive for a multi-drug resistant strain [MDR] of M. haemolytica). At 10 – 14 days a second NPS was taken from each of the 169 cattle with an alarming 123 (72.8%) showing positive cultures for M. haemolytica with 122 animals testing positive for a MDR strain of M. haemolytica. This offers a good idea of just how common it is to find M. haemolytica in high-risk stocker cattle and the waning or ineffective results seen with metaphylactic use on these groups.

How M. haemolytica Gains a Foothold in the Feedlot

Stocker cattle tend to be a mixed lot – some are healthy while others are in poor condition when they reach the sale barn. Knowing the background of any given sale barn calf is almost impossible.

  • Was it vaccinated properly?
  • Did the mother receive adequate nutrition during and after her pregnancy?
  • Was she vaccinated properly to ensure her and her calf’s immunity?
  • Did that calf have adequate weaning time?
  • How long has it been since its last meal? Is it already experiencing sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA)?

Unfortunately, these factors can have a huge effect on a calf’s ability to fight off disease and withstand the stresses of transitioning from its point of origin to the preconditioner’s lot.

M. haemolytica and Shipping Fever

“Shipping fever” is the common term for bovine respiratory disease (BRD), a complex of multiple diseases that can have detrimental impacts on stocker cattle. There are numerous viral diseases at play when looking at BRD – the most common include Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD – also a major contributor to scours), Parainfluenza Type-3 Virus (PI-3) and Bovine Respiratory Synctial Virus (BRSV).

Animals with weak or compromised immune systems are at greatest risk for developing shipping fever. With the stress of shipping – this includes handling, transport, lack of feed and water during transport, inhospitable weather and/or truck conditions, etc. – the calf’s immunity is put under significant stress. Because shipping fever is so prevalent, it’s common practice to administer a metaphylactic such as tulathromycin as they’re loaded for transport to help combat any secondary bacterial diseases that could contribute to “shipping fever”. Unfortunately, while this may help with bacterial infections that are already present, it doesn’t typically last long enough to address later-onset infections such as M. haemolytica.

When a cow is experiencing the ravages of shipping fever the immune system is under siege.  It is at this point that M. haemolytica can become a full-blown disease, invading the lungs, and causing pneumonia. As mentioned above, even with a metaphylaxis, the incubation time of M. haemolytica is such that it comes to fruition around the time the effects of the metaphylactic agent will be dwindling.

In some cases, cattle may contract M. haemolytica and recover without intervention; it’s often assumed that they “got over it” but the reality is that a good deal of lung damage may have occurred. This can become evident in that cow’s slower or reduced gain, stamina during handling, etc.

What Makes High-Risk Cattle Susceptible to M. haemolytica?

A high-risk cow is already in the “danger zone” for developing numerous problems. These cattle fall into several loose categories that can make them incredibly vulnerable to disease. It’s important to remember that the majority of a cow’s immune system lies within the rumen (about 80%). When viewed from that angle, it is no wonder that so many calves experience shipping fever and subsequent M. haemolytica secondary infections. Some of the factors that predispose a calf to issues include:

  • Unweaned calves. A calf that has not been properly weaned has not learned to eat on its own. It is also likely that its rumen is not fully developed, making it difficult for it to produce the necessary immunity to fight off disease. A calf that isn’t yet eating on its own can suffer from scours and acidosis.
  • Underweight calves. If a calf goes into the sale barn underweight it will surely arrive at the feedlot even more depleted. According to a review on transportation shrink by Ohio State University Extension, “Most of the shrinkage occurs during loading and in the first part (25 miles) of a trip. Cattle may lose half as much in 25 miles as they do in 200 miles. As the time increases, so does shrinkage, but at a slower rate than the first few miles.”2
  • Generally stressed calves. Calves that are being handled, moved to new environs, comingled with new cattle, etc., experience a high level of stress. Excessive stress releases cortisol which suppresses the immune system.
  • Undeveloped or under-developed rumens. Calves that have not been properly weaned and started on forage tend to have undeveloped rumens. This means that it is difficult to get them to start feeding and if and when they do, they don’t have the proper gut flora to adequately ruminate their feed.
  • Calves that refuse to eat or drink. In instances where a calf refuses to take in feed and water, they become quickly predisposed to being thrown into SARA.
  • Excessive antibiotic use prior to shipping. A metaphylactic program can be a vital part of keeping a herd healthy, however, the overuse or use of the wrong antibiotics can kill off beneficial gut flora, making it impossible for the rumen to function at peak levels.

Because the majority of a cow’s immune system lies within the gut, any one of the points above, or a combination of, can spell disaster for a calf with a weak rumen. This usually indicates it will have an equally weak immune system.

Use of Metaphylactics and M. haemolytica

The use of metaphylactics in the stocker cattle industry has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. When used prudently and properly, metaphylactics can help prevent widespread disease amongst groups of incoming cattle. However, if used carelessly or in excess, the benefits of metaphylactic use quickly become null.

Metaphylactics are used throughout an entire group of cattle under the assumption that they may be sick or will become sick in the near future. They might be administered in the form of an injection or added to feed. This is a much less time-consuming process than pulling individual sick calves and treating them independently of the herd.

A healthy calf with a strong immune system should be able to fight off serious infection on its own. The help of a metaphylactic agent may nip in the bud many diseases that are lurking but haven’t taken hold. This is assuming that the calf actually receives a therapeutic dose of the chosen drug. In cases when the metaphylactic is added to the feed, the consumption and dosage can be quite variable.

Consider a calf that is not fully weaned or is stressed and not eating. It may consume small amounts of treated grain, but not enough to achieve therapeutic drug levels adequate enough to treat the problem. This is when antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria develop and create a bigger issue than the one originally being treated.

Unfortunately, while metaphylactic use may be effective against many bacterial diseases, it is usually not particularly helpful in the case of M. haemolytica. This is because of the longer incubation time of M. haemolytica. If a calf is exposed to Mannheimia haemolytica at the sale barn or upon reaching its destination, it still has about two weeks before it might show any signs of illness. In the case of a calf given a metaphylactic at the time of sale or when arriving at the feedlot, that drug’s efficacy will be wearing off at around the same time that the incubation period for M. haemolytica will be ending. This creates the perfect timing for the bacteria to multiply and flourish in the body of the calf.

The other piece of this puzzle is the effect antibiotics can have on ruminal health. If a calf already has a weakened immune system with poor ruminal development, the likelihood that the metaphylactic agent used will destroy any remaining gut flora and thus throw the calf into scours and/or acidosis increases exponentially.

Why Immune System Development is Key in Preventing M. haemolytica

As previously mentioned, around 80% of a calf’s immune system lies in its rumen. Much of this immunity is received from its mother until it is naturally weaned. Because most calves must be prematurely weaned, this puts them at a disadvantage for developing a mature, fully functioning immune system.

The importance of a heifer’s health cannot be stressed enough when it comes to giving calves the best possible chance to start out healthy and realize maximum gains. A heifer that is depleted or experiencing SARA is not going to be able to put the necessary resources towards the development of her calf. Her immune system will be stressed, meaning the antibodies she is passing on, both in-utero and post-partum will not be nearly as potent as those that come from a healthy dam.

The milk quality will also be compromised – vital nutrients and other components that encourage proper development of a calf will be lacking. This makes it likely that the calf will require more milk to get its minimum requirements met, further depleting the dam.

Properly preparing a heifer for calving can save time and vital resources. A proper vaccination program for all cows is essential to help guarantee a calf’s latent immunity. This helps not only prevent scours in the post-natal calf, but also allows them to receive adequate antibodies throughout the duration of their nursing time.

Other Ways to Reduce the Prevalence of Shipping Fever and M. haemolytica

While there is no magic bullet for completely eliminating shipping fever or M. haemolytica, the risks can be greatly reduced.

The top way to keep the rumen functioning (and thus the immune system) is to get calves eating and drinking right away. They can be on transport trucks anywhere from a few hours to a few days without access to feed or water. During this time their ruminal health is incredibly compromised, predisposing them to acidosis and scours. As the acid concentration in the rumen increases, the appetite wanes, making it more and more difficult to get calves to consume feed and water. The best way to combat this is to bring the ruminal pH back into balance, thus stimulating the appetite.

It’s also important that a calf’s immunity start being built from day one. This includes ensuring that it is receiving adequate amounts of high-quality milk from the mother and not being exposed to stressors such as weather extremes, crowded living spaces, dirty environs or being subjected to improper or excessive handling. This naturally keeps the pH in check; when a calf is exposed to stress, administering buffering agents can stop the SARA process in its tracks.

Ensuring that the immunity continues to function benefits an animal in two ways – it keeps the calf on the right track for proper immune development and increases the efficacy of vaccinations. The chances of a healthy calf developing shipping fever and subsequent M. haemolytica go down markedly when a good care protocol is followed.

While it’s not possible to ensure that every calf is completely free of disease, it is possible to minimize the impact of shipping fever and M. haemolytica on the overall herd. The fewer animals that become sick, the greater the realized profits come harvest time. Prudence in antibiotic use and a keen eye on ruminal health can make the difference between a healthy, productive herd and one that sees more losses than gains.

Mineral Deficiency in Cattle

By Cattle No Comments

Mineral Deficiency in Cattle

If you run a livestock operation, you know the importance of giving your cattle the nutrition they need for good health. Part of a good nutrition program involves providing the necessary minerals like calcium, phosphorus and potassium, among many others. Growing cattle and pregnant or lactating cows have a particularly high need for minerals, and all cattle require minerals for essential bodily functions and immune support.

Mineral deficiencies in cattle can cause serious health conditions and lead to mortality in some cases. This means cattle will need supplementation if they cannot get the minerals from their pasture or feed.

Where Do Cattle Get Their Minerals?

Let’s take a closer look at some common sources of the minerals cattle need to thrive:

  • Pasture: The grasses in a pasture often contain many of the minerals cattle require for health. The plants that cattle graze and forage are high in nutrients like calcium and phosphorus that the rumen can break down and absorb. A typical orchard grass-and-alfalfa pasture in Pennsylvania, for instance, contains about 0.57% calcium and 0.32% phosphorus, more than enough to supply even the higher mineral requirements for pregnant and young, growing cattle. On the flip side of that coin, grass tetany is a common problem in areas that experience rapid grass growth, especially with increased rainfall during the spring and fall seasons.
  • Salt licks and loose salt: Some essential minerals are not found in great abundance in plants and soils. Cattle typically need a higher sodium intake than they can gain from their environment. Salt licks and loose salt are frequent solutions, though they often provide limited amounts of critical minerals other than sodium.
  • Mineral supplements: Mineral supplements are useful for supplying minerals cattle cannot get from the environment. They contain an extensive range of nutrients in addition to salt, so they offer a more balanced solution. Pro Earth Animal Health’s lick tubs with CattlActive®, for instance, contain minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese and copper. Injections, capsules, pellets and drenches can also supply cattle with necessary minerals.

What Minerals Do Cattle Need to Thrive?

What minerals for cattle are most advantageous? Below are a few types of essential minerals and their health benefits for cattle:

1. Calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the bodies of cattle. As in humans, calcium is essential for bone and nerve tissue development and maintenance. In many regions pastures will have sufficient calcium for cows’ needs — alfalfa, for instance, can contain up to 1% calcium. Weathered forage and grain feed contain much lower percentages of calcium.

It’s also important to manage cattle’s calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. The ideal ratio of calcium to phosphorus ranges from about 1.5:1 to 2:1. No matter the specific proportion, the amount of ingested calcium should exceed the amount of ingested potassium. If cattle consume more potassium than calcium, they become less able to absorb calcium through their digestive tract. Instead, they will metabolize it from their skeletons, leaving their bones brittle and underdeveloped. They may also develop “water belly” — urinary calculi — or kidney stones.

2. Sodium

Cattle need sodium for normal nerve and muscle function. This mineral also helps maintain the balance of fluids in the body. Almost all cattle require sodium supplements, often in the form of salt licks or loose salt, unless the sodium chloride content in their water is exceptionally high or the plants the cattle consume have grown in salty soils. Cattle generally crave sodium and ingest it willingly.

3. Phosphorus

Phosphorus travels to many parts of a cow’s body and plays a vital role in energy transfer. It is also essential for robust reproductive health. Fortunately, for beef cattle especially, dietary phosphorus requirements are relatively modest, and good pasture will likely meet them, though older pasture, drought and winter conditions can all reduce its levels. Fortunately, phosphorus, like sodium, is a mineral cattle tend to crave, so pellets or licks that contain phosphorus will likely be palatable to most cows.

Phosphorus presents a particular challenge in nutrient management because cattle excrete phosphorus directly in their fecal matter. Overfeeding of supplements can lead to exceptionally high phosphorus concentrations in cattle excrement. Excessive phosphorus in the environment can lead to nutrient pollution, especially if agricultural runoff carries the phosphorus into nearby water sources like lakes and rivers. There, it can promote eutrophication, algal overgrowth, oxygen starvation in aquatic ecosystems and the loss of fish and other organisms. For this reason, producers will want to ensure they provide their cattle the correct amount of phosphorus without oversupplying it and harming the environment.

4. Magnesium

Adequate magnesium intake is critical for preventing the disease known as grass tetany. Cattle generally ingest magnesium as they graze in pastures, especially if the pastures have received proper liming. They may also obtain it through supplementation as necessary — magnesium oxide and Epsom salts are two common sources. Cattle tend to find these substances unpalatable, so producers should purchase licks that mix these minerals with more appealing substances like dried molasses, ground corn, water, salt and other spices and flavorings.

5. Potassium

Potassium is necessary for proper muscle contraction, nerve transmission and fluid balance. Fortunately, potassium needs are relatively easy for cattle to meet through pasture grazing and foraging. Legumes, in particular, contain high potassium levels. Cattle operations should take care not to allow their cows to consume too much potassium — overconsumption can lead to reduced magnesium intake and a higher potential for the development of grass tetany.

6. Zinc

Zinc is essential for reproductive health and immune response, and it forms an integral part of many enzyme systems that must function correctly for proper feed consumption and growth to occur. Cattle tend to store zinc poorly in their bodies, so they are often prone to deficiencies if their diet does not consistently contain the proper amounts. Excessive iron in the body can also lead to poor zinc absorption and storage. Zinc supplements can help, and zinc methionine treatments are also often useful for treating conditions like foot rot.

7. Manganese

Manganese forms an integral part of many enzyme systems necessary for good reproductive health. Its availability varies widely depending on the soil prevalent on grazing lands. Cattle deficient in manganese may experience poor reproductive performance, and any calves born are likely to suffer from birth abnormalities.

8. Copper

Copper is important for cattle coat health, digestive health and overall growth and immune response. Copper deficiencies are particularly likely in granite soils, sandy, coastal soils and peat swamps. Deficiencies are also common among cattle that eat green feed instead of dry feed, as well as in breeding stock and young, growing cattle.

9. Cobalt

Cobalt is necessary for the proper synthesis of vitamin B12 in the rumen. Certain soils are incredibly deficient in cobalt, particularly granite soils that receive high rainfall, calcareous sands along the coast, and krasnozem or red loam soils, so supplementation is often necessary, especially for young, growing cattle.

10. Selenium

Selenium is essential for muscle health and is implicated in muscular and cardiac ailments like white muscle disease in calves. It also boosts immune response and fertility. In the Northeast, soils are notoriously low in selenium, so many producers give selenium injections to their calves to combat these effects or provide commercial mixes that contain selenium.

What Mineral Deficiency Means in Cattle

Mineral deficiency in cows can have a variety of adverse consequences. Below are some of the signs that cattle are not receiving adequate levels of certain minerals:

1. Reproductive Deficiencies

Cattle that lack required minerals often face challenges with reproduction. These difficulties may range from infertility to stillbirths or congenital abnormalities in calves, or cows may experience silent heats or retain their placentas after giving birth. Deficiencies in minerals like phosphorus, zinc, selenium and manganese can cause these issues. Zinc deficiencies contribute significantly to reproductive problems in males.

2. Ill-Thrift

Calves that grow more slowly than their peers are said to have ill-thrift. Often, the cause is a mineral deficiency. These calves are typically smaller and weaker than their peers and may exhibit an overall failure to thrive, even becoming emaciated and profoundly weakened. Deficiencies in minerals such as cobalt, selenium, copper and zinc can cause these difficulties.

3. Insufficient Feed Intake

In some cases, mineral deficiency in cows causes them to consume too little feed to meet their metabolic needs. Absorbing insufficient zinc, for instance, can cause cattle to go off their feed. Inadequate nutrient consumption can then lead to a cascade of other health issues, including poor growth and minimal immune resilience.

4. Problems With Bone Growth and Milk Production

Because phosphorus is one of the skeletal system’s primary components, phosphorus deficiencies, in particular, lead to insufficient bone growth and rigidity. Cattle that receive too little phosphorus may have soft bones and become more prone than their peers to fractures. Lactating cows that ingest too little phosphorus may also produce too little milk, especially if they have previously generated copious amounts of milk that depleted their mineral stores.

5. Immune Deficiencies

When cattle receive insufficient minerals, their immune systems often suffer. They become more susceptible to diseases that healthier animals would shake off. These issues are exacerbated in calves, whose immune systems are still developing, leaving them particularly vulnerable to infection. Deficiencies in minerals like zinc, copper and selenium can cause low immune responses.

6. Sudden Death

In some instances, a lack of minerals can cause cattle to die without warning. Selenium deficiency, which can also cause poor growth and awkward gait, can also lead to sudden death if unaddressed, as can magnesium deficiency.

7. Pica

Pica, a condition in which cattle eat nonfood items like rocks, bones, wood, plastic, soil, clay, rags and even the plaster from barn walls, occurs most commonly with phosphorus deficiencies. Cows with this condition may also try to lick other animals’ urine in an attempt to source phosphorus from the environment.

8. Gastrointestinal Distress

Though they are not the most common consequence of mineral deficiencies, gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea can sometimes occur. Diarrhea sometimes occurs because of a copper deficiency, which can also cause low food intake and stunted growth. 

9. Grass Tetany

Grass tetany, also known as hypomagnesemia, is a condition that causes restlessness, an unsteady gait, excitability or aggression, convulsions and death. Grass tetany usually results from a magnesium deficiency, and it often occurs in the spring, when cattle graze on lush, new, fast-growing grasses, like ryegrasses, that contain little magnesium. It also commonly occurs in lactating cows that lose magnesium through their milk.

10. White Muscle Disease

White muscle disease typically occurs in calves. It is a nutritional myopathy — it causes muscle weakness throughout the body because of insufficient nutrition. It can cause stiffness of the entire body, an arched back, stunted growth and lethargy, and sometimes it leads to cardiac degeneration and failure. Selenium deficiency often causes this condition, as can a vitamin deficiency in cattle, most notably a lack of vitamin E.

How the Right Mineral Program Benefits Calf Operations

Mineral availability is crucial for all cattle, and it is indispensable for growing calves, who need to ingest the right balance of nutrients to grow and develop robust immune systems. Below are a few specific ways the right supplemental mineral program can benefit a calf operation:

1. Reproductive Health

Cattle with healthy mineral levels breed better. If your operation intends its calves for breeding, choosing the proper balance of minerals can help with higher conception rates and improved breedback.

2. Calf Performance

Calves that receive an array of essential minerals generally thrive across many growth and performance metrics. Calves whose dams are ingesting sufficient minerals typically gain more daily weight and exhibit superior disease resistance.

3. Immune System Health

Calves that ingest the right minerals usually have more resilient immune systems. They can fight off illness more easily, they respond better to vaccines, and they will be more likely to survive into adulthood.

4. Fly Control

Many mineral supplements contain insect growth regulators, which disrupt flies’ life cycles and prevent these pests from maturing. If producers start their calves and cattle on these supplements before the fly season starts, the cattle will be better able to resist pest infestations.

5. Easier Weaning

Calves with mineral deficiencies may struggle during and after weaning. If they no longer receive antibodies through their dams’ milk, and if their immune systems are not strong enough to protect them, they will have an increased likelihood of succumbing to illness. Providing calves with minerals to lick or consume as pellets also gives them valuable initial experience with solid feed and can smooth the transition to adult feed.

Make Pro Earth Animal Health Your Trusted Source for Cattle Minerals

To provide the best minerals for cows to optimize their growth, immune function and overall health, contact Pro Earth Animal Health. When you work with us, you’ll partner with our caring, knowledgeable teams of experts who can help guide you toward better health for your cattle and improved profitability for your livestock operation.

We offer various lick tubs that contain the essential minerals your cattle need to thrive. You can choose from several formulations to provide different mineral blends, increase or decrease protein consumption, target stress relief or optimize minerals for breeding stock.

Our lick tubs also contain our proprietary prebiotic, CattlActive®. CattlActive® is completely natural, and it neutralizes the pH of the stomach and rumen to reduce acid and help prevent ulcers. It encourages eating and drinking, provides a balanced environment where beneficial microbes can thrive, and promotes more effective digestion, a strong immune system and better overall health.

Contact us today to purchase a lick tub for your cattle or learn more.


  1. https://extension.psu.edu/minerals-for-beef-cows
  2. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/20-all-natural-tub-with-cattlactive/
  3. https://www.dtnpf.com/agriculture/web/ag/livestock/article/2018/04/09/mineral-deficiency-common-cows
  4. https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/issue
  5. https://www.mla.com.au/research-and-development/animal-health-welfare-and-biosecurity/diseases/nutritional/mineral-deficiencies
  6. https://www.drovers.com/article/mineral-supplementation-beef-cattle
  7. https://www.thecattlesite.com/diseaseinfo/215/hypomagnesaemia-grass-staggers-tetany/
  8. https://www.thecattlesite.com/diseaseinfo/258/white-muscle-disease
  9. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/cattlactive-lick-tubs/
  10. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/cattlactive/
  11. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/contact-us/

Six Tips for Successfully Grazing Cornstalks

By Acidosis and Shipping Fever, Cattle, Cow-Calf, Feedlot No Comments

Finding economical feed sources that provide adequate nutrition is a major concern for producers. Grazing cornstalks offers producers a great opportunity to utilize a by-product that might otherwise go to waste. Turning cattle out after harvest allows the corn farmer and cattle producer to work together towards a mutually beneficial goal; the farmer’s fields are cleared of leftover plant matter and the producer can feed his cattle inexpensively.

The quality of feedstuffs will vary depending on several factors, including the weather, how long the stalks have been standing, how much grain is still left, etc.

Here are five tips for making the most of your cornstalk grazing program:

  1. Know what you’re feeding. Assess the amount of grain remaining following harvest. Do this prior to turning cattle out. Adjustments to supplementation will depend on how much corn is left in the field.
  2. Support optimum rumen pH. Rumen microbes take time to adjust to the increase in starch in the diet. When microbe populations must shift in composition to process starches, it can take around two weeks for this adjustment to take place. Bloat becomes a concern during this transition, so supporting a proper rumen pH is essential to ensure that there are not major increases in rumen acid (which can lead to microbe die-off and sub-acute ruminal acidosis).
  3. Be prepared to supplement protein. Cornstalks and grain are low in protein, making it necessary to boost the daily protein intake through supplementation. A non-protein nitrogen (NPN) may need to be used to help increase the breakdown and utilization of proteins. It is important to maintain a proper nitrogen-to-starch ratio to help support microbes and stave off bloat.
  4. Vitamin A is key. Vitamin A is most abundantly present in green plant matter – for cattle, lush pastures are the main source of naturally-derived vitamin A. Unfortunately, both cornstalks and grain are markedly low in vitamin A. It will be necessary to supplement vitamin A on a daily basis to cattle grazing on cornstalks.
  5. Provide loose salt and minerals. Cornstalks and grain lack in many essential minerals and the salts needed for the proper functioning of every system in an animal’s body. Phosphorus, for example, is vital for proper digestion, while adequate calcium must be available for lactating cows. Loose salt and mineral supplementation allow for customization depending on regional soil deficiencies and the particular needs of the animals being turned out for cornstalk grazing.
  6. Consider tubs for supplementation. Tubs offer a great all-in-one solution for the supplementation of cattle. Many offer regional formulas to address specific deficiencies unique to the areas they are formulated for. In addition to salt and mineral supplementation, tubs make it possible to fill in the gaps in the nutritional profile of cornstalk grazing without breaking the bank.

Using cornstalk grazing as an economical way to feed cattle is a great way to take advantage of by-product resources. Establishing that fine balance between affordability and optimum conversion may take a little research and work, but the end result can mean more dollars in your pocket come sale time.

Lice Season is Approaching – Are You Ready?

By Cattle, Cow-Calf, Feedlot, Pre-Conditioning No Comments

When cold weather sets in, many cattle producers can take a sigh of relief as fly season draws to a close. However, the winter doesn’t herald complete freedom from external parasite concerns. It’s only starting for cattle lice.

Winter – the season of the louse

While always present on cattle, these opportunistic parasites spend the summer months laying low and not reproducing.  Because they are sensitive to sunlight, they tend to hide in dark places on the underside of an animal’s body, and especially when the haircoat is short and provides no protection. Lice take advantage of the cooler weather, shorter days, and longer hair coats to start laying eggs and wreaking havoc.

Lice emerge from their hiding places (folds of skin, mainly) as the hair coat increases in length, usually around late October into November and December. They can inhabit any part of an animal, but they seem particularly bothersome on the neck, shoulder, back and topline.

Consequences of uncontrolled lice infestation

Even though small numbers of lice are always present on healthy cattle, they are also opportunistic and will take advantage of cattle that are experiencing abnormal levels of stress. This stress may come from weather extremes, nutritional deficiencies, or other factors. Typically, a stressed animal will have higher levels of blood cortisol, the stress hormone that, in larger amounts, will cause a decrease in appetite and immune suppression.

A weakened immune system opens an animal up to a number of potential problems, external parasites being just one of them. Even in normally healthy animals, a significant lice infestation can have detrimental effects to their ongoing health.

Cattle that are experiencing the uncomfortable symptoms of lice will spend the majority of their time attempting to relieve the itching, taking them away from their number one job: eating. This can have dire consequences, considering their rumen health is dependent on a steady intake to function properly.

Some of the most significant effects an infestation can have include:

  • Reduced feed intake
  • Shrink
  • Higher susceptibility to infection
  • Cold stress (from rubbing off protective hair coat)
  • Reduced milk quality and production in cows (especially important for those fall calves)

Symptoms of lice infestation

The signs of lice infestation often manifest with animals rubbing, scratching and licking various areas on their bodies. Fence lines may be the first indicator of a problem, with tufts of scratched-off hair deposited in the barbs. Upon closer inspection of the animals themselves, there may be areas of raw, abraded skin or even crusted-over patches. When the itching becomes severe enough, they may even rub the majority of their winter coats off, leaving them susceptible to cold stress.

Cattle with severe infestations will also lose weight, as they are occupied with trying to relieve the irritation caused by the biting and chewing of these parasites. In the absence of feed intake, they can also experience sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA), leading to rumen microbe die-off and reduced nutrient absorption, opening them up to infection.

Types of lice found in cattle

There are two different groups of lice that the different species are divided into: sucking lice and chewing lice. Sucking lice feed on body fluids and skin secretions produced by the host, while chewing lice consume hair, skin and debris found on the body of their hosts.

Some of the most common species of louse found on cattle include the short-nose cattle louse (Haematopinus eurysternus), the biting or chewing louse (Bovicola bovis), the little blue cattle louse (Solenopotes capillatus) and the short-nose cattle louse (Haematopinus eurysternus). The variety of species can vary somewhat depending on region.

Heading off a serious infestation

One of the biggest mistakes made by producers is treating for lice too soon. Oftentimes, calves that are being weaned in the late summer and fall, prior to being moved to feedlots or pasture will be treated with either a pour-on dewormer or injectable dewormer. While this may have a small impact on the lice that are semi-dormant, it will not easily reach them if they have not moved to the upper portions of the animal. This means treatment is wasted and won’t prevent infestations from developing once the weather has truly gotten cold.

Pour-ons have shown the greatest efficacy, but the timing must be right. Early winter is an ideal time to treat for lice. It’s important to communicate with your herd veterinarian, as they will be able to advise on the most effective and economical timing.

How to help cattle that have already been affected

Even with good management, the weather can sometimes be a bit tricky and a serious infestation will occur. These animals will need a little extra help to regain their health and be able to withstand winter conditions. Here are a few things you can do to help your animals if they’re in this situation:

  • First and foremost, under the care of your herd vet, treat your cattle with a good pour-on dewormer formulated to kill the specific types of lice you are dealing with. Eliminating the cause of the irritation will help eliminate stress and allow any wounds to heal.
  • Treat ALL animals – even those that appear to be unaffected.
  • Base dosing on the weight of the animal. Too little and the product won’t work properly; too much is like pouring money down the drain.
  • Ensure complete coverage. The deworming product must come in contact with the lice themselves (or the areas they may migrate to) in order to be effective.
  • Help them reestablish normal eating patterns. This may require that problems like SARA are addressed. Neutralizing the rumen’s pH will encourage them to resume eating.
  • Support gut microbes. The rumen is responsible for 80% of the immune system’s ability to function. A very large part of this depends on a healthy microbial population. If the microbe balance has been disrupted, it will be necessary to provide nutritional support that will feed not only the animal but its damaged microbial colonies.
  • Take measures to help prevent recurrences, such as retreating at appropriate intervals during the winter months.

The time, money, and effort spent to properly treat your animals at the right times is a wise investment for the overall well-being of your herd. It will not only save them the discomfort of a lice infestation but can help boost your bottom line in the long run by preventing unnecessary shrink and illness.

Maximizing the Efficacy of Your Calf Vaccinations

By Branding, Cattle, Cow-Calf, Pre-Conditioning No Comments

As weaning time moves into full swing, the topic of vaccinations should be at the forefront of producers’ minds. An effective vaccination program can be the difference between having a great year or one that results in disaster.

Vaccines are essential for providing protection against diseases not only to an individual animal but the herd at large. When “herd immunity” is developed through an effective vaccination program, the number of animals that get sick goes down exponentially, which, in the bigger picture, minimizes sick treatment costs, performance losses and even deaths.

The benefits of vaccinations in today’s marketplace

As a growing number of consumers push for cattle that have not been fed antibiotics during the finishing period, or beef that hasn’t been raised with antibiotics in the feed, it is more important than ever that cattle going to market start out healthy and stay that way. While a few “natural” certification programs don’t allow for vaccinations to be used, the majority do and for good reason.

A cow that has developed a strong immune response to certain diseases is much more likely to remain healthy, even in situations where an outbreak may occur. This reduces the likelihood that they will end up in the sick pen being treated with antibiotics to combat whatever pathogens may be lurking in the environment.

Making the most of your vaccination dollar

There are a few things you can do to help guarantee a successful vaccination program. Below are our recommendations for getting the most out of your vaccine investment.

  1. Ensure calves are healthy enough to receive vaccinations

Vaccines depend on the immune system to react to the “invasion” they create, facilitating an immunity against the pathogens to develop. Factors such as stress or poor body condition can have a significant impact on the efficacy of vaccinations. Cortisol, a stress hormone that is released when animals respond to internal or external stress stimuli, suppresses the immune system. Calves that are not well-nourished or dehydrated will not develop an adequate immunity.

  • Handle and store vaccines properly

Vaccines are delicate – they are both light and temperature-sensitive. They should always be stored at the recommended temperature range. This information can be found on the packaging. Modified live vaccines (MLV) in particular are especially sensitive to temperature changes. If you are only vaccinating five calves, bring enough to vaccinate those animals and leave the rest in the refrigerator. Fluctuations in temperature – even if they’re being kept cool – can compromise the integrity of the vaccine.

  • Keep stress levels as low as possible

Calves are very susceptible to the effects of stress. Some of the major stressors include tagging, branding and weaning. In particular, weaning can be detrimental to a calf’s performance over its lifetime. Because of this, it is recommended that calves that are preparing to be weaned are vaccinated at least two weeks (three weeks is even better) prior to weaning, as they will be experiencing low stress at that time and they will have a greater vaccine response. A follow-up with a booster two or three weeks after weaning, too, will have allowed them time to adjust to their new environment and rations.

  • Determine what vaccines you really need

Vaccination needs are determined by several factors, including the region you’re in, what types of diseases your cattle may encounter at your operation and what they might face during transportation or in a feedlot, etc. Your herd veterinarian will be able to guide you in choosing the right vaccines for your geographic area. A good rule of thumb is to vaccinate against the most common and damaging diseases, including BRSV (bovine respiratory syncytial virus), IBR (infectious bovine rhinotracheitis), BVD (bovine viral diarrhea) and PI3 (parainfluenza). Other diseases to consider, depending on region would include a 7-way clostridial (blackleg), Vibriosis, 5-way Leptospirosis, etc.

Each operation is different – by choosing the proper vaccinations for your herd and practicing smart vaccine administration, you can ensure that you are getting the greatest immunity in your cattle while maximizing your profit come sale time.

Feed and Water: The Best Medicine

By Acidosis and Shipping Fever, Cattle, Cow-Calf, Pre-Conditioning No Comments

In today’s stocker and feeder industry, producers must rely on “high-risk” sale barn calves for inventory. Trailer weaning, commingling, and non-existent health programs make these calves challenging to precondition and put into production. The fact that most of these calves have no immunity and have a rumen that is not mature makes them very susceptible to environmental and airborne pathogens. Exposure to other cattle, dusty sale barns, and hours without feed and water during the sale and transportation to an unfamiliar environment starts the process of “shipping fever.”
Pressure from consumers – both foreign and domestic – for less antibiotic use has increased the focus for alternatives to antibiotics. Nutritionists I veterinarians, and academic researchers are starting to focus more on Sub-Acute Ruminal Acidosis (SARA) – often a result of stress – and the effects it has on appetite, immunity, and cortisol levels in cattle. Stress is unavoidable when cattle are weaned I transported, commingled, and processed and is the leading cause of SARA.

How Stress Affects Ruminal Health

Stress creates a physiological chain reaction that increases acid production in the rumen, resulting in a lower ruminal pH. This imbalance must be corrected for the calf to digest any feedstuffs that are ingested. Prolonged acidity in the rumen compromises the protective mucosal lining, allowing bacteria from the rumen to leak into the bloodstream, causing shipping fever. A compromised rumen also means that the calf’s immune system is being negatively impacted as 80% of the calf’s immune system is contained in and around the rumen and small intestine.
A compromised immune system allows secondary pathogens in the respiratory tract to multiply and migrate to the lungs where irreparable damage occurs. These pathogens are the main cause of death in “high-risk” calves.

The three physiological effects of stress that impact a “high-risk” calf are:

• An increase in acid production and a decrease in pH of the rumen suppresses the appetite and impacts digestion.
• An elevated core temperature causing fever and increasing morbidity.
• An increase in blood cortisol levels suppresses the immune system and appetite.

An increase in cortisol suppresses appetite by affecting the brain’s ability to release hormones that trigger appetite. Elevated cortisol levels also suppress the immune system, making vaccinations ineffective when administered to stressed calves. A climb in the core temperature can prove detrimental as fever greatly increases morbidity and the possibility of mortality.

How CattlActive® Can Help

CattlActive® is an all-natural oral drench that is proven to raise the pH of the rumen 0.9 units in 15 minutes. It is also proven to lower the core temperature by as much as 6° F in 15 minutes. In addition, it has been shown to lower cortisol levels from an elevated 229 nmols to a more beneficial level of 153 nmols.

CattlActive® can also be used in a water source at 1 ml/gallon to sustain these beneficial levels of pH, core temperature, and cortisol. Every time a calf is processed, handled, revaccinated, or treated for sickness it is stressed, increasing the risk of SARA affecting that calf. The ability of CattlActive® to neutralize acid in 15 minutes makes it ideal for “high-risk” calves.
Good quality feed and water are the best medicine for cattle – creating the environment in the rumen to receive feed and water is paramount. This encourages the beneficial microbes to flourish and promote proper digestion. It also increases the calf’s ability to regain shrink, respond to vaccines, and fight off disease. Remember, antibiotics are only 20% of the defense against disease in cattle. Vaccines, good management, and nutrition are the other 80%. Using CattlActive® in your operation will encourage “high-risk” calves to eat and drink, supporting a healthier animal overall.

For a printable copy of this article, including cost analysis of CattlActive®, please click here.

Identifying and Treating Blackleg in Cattle

By Cattle No Comments

Maintaining optimum herd health is one of the greatest challenges cattle producers face. Herd losses quickly lead to lost profit; the loss of young heifers, in particular, can mean missed breeding opportunities and fewer head to take to the sale barn. To put this into perspective, in 2015 the total estimated cost of death loss in cattle and calves was $3.87 billion.

Blackleg is a fairly common disease in cattle and can have dire consequences. It can strike without warning, it has a high mortality rate, and its symptoms are not always easy to detect. Fortunately, producers and feedlot operators can take steps to increase the immunity of their herds and reduce the chances that their animals will contract blackleg.

What Is Blackleg?

Blackleg is a clostridial disease that primarily affects young cattle raised on pasture. A clostridial disease is one caused by anaerobic bacteria in the soil. These bacteria have protective coverings known as spores and are often fatal to the animals they infect. More than 60 types of clostridial bacteria exist, though not all of them have the potential to cause disease. Black disease, malignant edema, tetanus and botulism are examples of other serious clostridial diseases.

Blackleg is primarily caused by the clostridial bacterium known as Clostridium chauvoei. Its spores are incredibly widespread — they are found virtually everywhere in the environment. The disease is also known as clostridial myositis.

C. chauvoei was discovered in 1887 and later took its name from a French veterinarian, J.B.A. Chauveau. It is a gram-positive, spore-forming rod that is found in soil and the feces and digestive systems of many animals, such as cattle. The spores are highly resistant to harsh environmental conditions and many disinfecting agents. They can be found in pairs and sometimes in small chains, but most often each single bacterium exists in isolation, though there may be many other bacteria in the surrounding earth.

How Do Cattle Contract Blackleg?

Cattle often consume blackleg spores as they graze at pasture. When cattle consume low-growing vegetation, they may ingest some soil — and spores — as well. The spores then travel through the digestive system, pass through the intestinal wall, move through the cow’s bloodstream and disperse throughout the muscle tissue in the animal’s body, where they may remain dormant for some time. The spores often end up in the musculature of an animal’s legs, especially the hind legs, though they can also infect areas such as the tongue, diaphragm, udder or brisket. Experts are unsure why the spores so often colonize muscle tissue in preference to other types.

Lack of oxygen to the muscle tissues can cause the spores to emerge from their dormancy. When the spores become active, they proliferate rapidly and cause gas gangrene in the muscles, which quickly leads to the characteristic dark-colored lesions that give the disease its name. Tissue necrosis and toxemia generally result, as well. Though blackleg does not always cause outward discoloration, cutting into a diseased animal’s infected leg will reveal areas of darkened tissue where gas gangrene has formed. If superficial muscles are involved, a darkening of the observable tissue of the affected legs is also common.

Active blackleg infections ultimately prove fatal in a majority of cases. Many necropsies reveal inflammation in the hearts of cattle that have died from blackleg, particularly fibrinous pericarditis and necrotizing myocarditis, in addition to lesions and necrosis in their skeletal muscles.

It’s important to note that although blackleg is infectious, it is not contagious from individual to individual. So an infected animal cannot spread the disease directly to other members of the herd. It is also not necessary for cattle to have open wounds to contract blackleg — consumption and subsequent bruising and injury are sufficient to activate the disease.

Blackleg in Calves

Blackleg in calves is a particular concern. Blackleg has been observed in calves as young as six weeks. However, most blackleg cases occur in calves and cows aged six months to two years. Even strong calves who appear to be in robust condition and are growing rapidly are susceptible to this disease — in fact, young calves growing rapidly are among those most likely to be infected. Adult cattle can contract blackleg as well, but infections in adults are much less common, though they can occur, especially in elderly animals.

Causes of Blackleg Disease in Cows

A number of different environmental factors increase the likelihood that cattle will contract blackleg disease:

  • Injury: If a cow sustains an injury, the site of the injury may receive reduced blood flow and, consequently, a reduced amount of oxygen. Reduced oxygen at the injury site may cause the blackleg spores to become active. For this reason, a cow that exhibits noticeable bruising is at increased risk of contracting blackleg disease. Activities such as transport, improper handling, injections, excessive exercise and rough pasture interactions can all cause bruising that may lead to blackleg spore germination and active infection.
  • Ingestion of contaminated feed: Ingestion of feed that is heavily contaminated with C. chauvoei spores can also lead to infection. After animals consume the contaminated feed, the spores travel to and colonize their muscle tissue. In some cases, after animals ingest large amounts of contaminated feed, bruising or injury is not necessary for the active infection to occur.
  • Drought: Drought stunts forage growth. As cattle feed on shorter and shorter vegetation, their mouths must come closer to the soil, and their risk of contracting blackleg from soil contact increases. Drought also leads to dry soil that can easily blow away in the wind, spreading spores over the surrounding land.
  • Recent excavation: Recent excavation projects create a hospitable environment for the spread of blackleg spores. Excavation projects disturb the earth and allow spores to disperse over the ground. Even innocuous-seeming activities such as mucking out stalls or pens can disturb earthen floors and expose cattle to the spores lurking there.
  • Extreme weather: Many cases of blackleg occur during wet seasons, typically in the summer months. Torrential spring rains and flooding lead to hospitable conditions for the spread of blackleg spores because of the way they disturb the soil. The soil saturation associated with heavy rainstorms can cause buried spores to rise to the earth’s surface. The Texas A&M Medical Diagnostics Laboratory reports that it saw an unusual number of blackleg cases throughout 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
  • Flooding: Relatedly, floodwaters carry soil and spores over vast areas of ground. Rains and flooding make the earth soft, so cattle can easily dig into it with their hooves and horns, thus increasing their likelihood of coming into contact with the spores. If pastureland is flooding, consider moving feeding stations to higher ground or concrete pads to minimize the likelihood your cattle will ingest blackleg spores.
  • Movement to new pastures: Moving animals to new pastures, especially after heavy rains, may bring them into an environment where C. chauvoei spores are more prevalent. The likelihood that the animals will ingest spores then increases.
  • Improper carcass disposal: If a farm or ranch experiences a blackleg outbreak, proper carcass disposal is vital for preventing the spread of the disease. If these solutions are possible, burning the carcasses or burying them deeply where they have fallen are often the best practices, since dragging the carcasses over the ground can lead to spore dispersal. Burning the top area of soil where afflicted animals have been is often necessary as well. Fencing off the areas where carcasses are buried also helps prevent the transmission of spores.

What Are the Symptoms of Blackleg in Cattle?

Blackleg symptoms in cattle are often difficult to spot. Because the disease progresses so rapidly, in many cases, calves quickly become ill and die before symptoms have become apparent, often within 12 to 48 hours of contracting the active disease. However, some symptoms of blackleg may become evident, and it’s essential to keep a watchful eye out for them:

  • Fever: At the onset of infection, affected cattle may exhibit a fever, though the fevers often subside as the disease progresses.
  • Lameness: It is common for cattle to develop lameness in an affected leg.
  • Loss of appetite: Cattle who have developed active infections are likely to stop eating.
  • Lethargy: Lethargy or depression can develop in cattle with active blackleg infections.
  • Hot, swollen muscles: The pockets of gas gangrene that form can cause the muscles in the affected area to swell. Initially, these areas may be hot to the touch. Fever, lameness, loss of appetite, lethargy and swelling are typically some of the first signs that become visible.
  • Recumbency: Afflicted animals may lie down and be unable to get up.
  • Discolored skin lesions: Skin in the affected area may become discolored as the infection spreads and skin necrotizes.
  • Crepitation: Affected animals may have skin that seems to crackle when touched because of the gas that has formed in the muscle tissue.
  • Diffuse lung sounds and dyspnea: Some cases of blackleg involve cardiac lesions in addition to skeletal muscle lesions. In these cases, the lungs make characteristic diffuse sounds, and the animal may have difficulty breathing.
  • Tachycardia: Blackleg may also cause a rapid heart rate in some animals.
  • Rumen stasis: As the disease progresses, the animal’s stomach functions may shut down.
  • Skin coldness and insensitivity: Initially, the skin in the affected area may be hot and swollen to the touch. But as the disease progresses, the lack of oxygen in the affected area and the progression of necrosis may cause the skin to become cold.
  • Malodorous liquid and gas in cut tissue: Because of the gangrene infection, cutting into affected tissue often releases malodorous liquid and gas. The odor is typically described as similar to that of rancid butter.

In some cases of blackleg that lead to congestive heart failure, symptoms such as a distended jugular vein and edema of the brisket have been reported. However, these reports are rare.

Although veterinarians may make a presumptive diagnosis of blackleg on the basis of the above signs and the animal’s clinical history, the official diagnosis requires the detection and isolation of C. chauvoei in the affected tissues.

How Do You Treat Blackleg in Cattle?

Typically, treatment is ineffective against blackleg, and the mortality rate of the disease is relatively high. In some cases, if the disease is detected early enough, penicillin can be effective in saving an animal’s life. A cow that survives blackleg, however, usually suffers from a permanent deformity or lameness.

For this reason, and because eliminating blackleg spores from the environment is virtually impossible, one of the best treatments for blackleg in cattle is vaccines.

Blackleg Vaccines

Vaccines cannot treat blackleg in an afflicted cow, but they can help to prevent healthy cows from contracting the disease. The standard recommendation is to vaccinate calves once they reach two to three months of age, and the again around 6 – 8 months, the time when they start to wean. Until then, the antibodies they received via their mothers’ rich colostrum shortly after birth should protect them.

When the calves reach weaning age, a vaccination protocol becomes critical. Typically, calves should receive two doses of vaccine during this time, with the second dose following three to six weeks after the first. Because all blackleg vaccines are killed or inactivated vaccines rather than live vaccines, the second shot is often essential to ensure the vaccine’s effectiveness. Annual or semiannual boosters are recommended afterward until the animal reaches two years of age. Vaccinations should take place before the danger of blackleg becomes high — usually spring or early summer.

The available vaccines are typically extremely effective against blackleg — the limited research on the subject suggests these vaccines are nearly 100 percent effective against blackleg contracted from the environment. The antibodies the vaccines stimulate minimize the toxic effect of any spores that become active within an animal’s body. These vaccines usually protect against several other diseases as well, including malignant edema, black disease and enterotoxemia.

What Other Animals Can Get Blackleg?

Blackleg-like conditions have been described in other species, particularly sheep and goats.

Sheep are known to contract blackleg infections, but these animals often become infected through open wounds rather than by ingesting the spores. Infections in sheep typically occur after some form of acute injury, including cuts from shearing, docking or castration. It is possible that those cases are merely gangrene associated with C. chauvoei, rather than true blackleg. 

C. chauvoei infections similar to blackleg have also been reported in animals such as deer, horses, pigs, oryx, elephants and even whales.

5 Reasons You Should Consider Lick Tubs

By Cattle, Horses, Uncategorized No Comments

There’s no disputing that horses and cattle that receive a well-rounded, complete diet with proper levels of essential nutrients perform better, live longer, and have stronger immune systems. In an ideal world, all of their nutrition would come from the forage or concentrated feeds they are given. This, however, is rarely the case, as forage or grazing quality can vary wildly. There is also the factor that each animal will have different nutritional needs throughout their lives. Filling in the gaps in the regular diet is essential to ensure that they thrive.

Luckily, with the advent of lick tubs, fulfilling these nutritional needs is easier than ever. Here are five reasons you should consider adding lick tubs to your feeding regimen.

  1. Tubs deliver balanced nutrition in small quantities of product. Most tubs are formulated to be consumed at a rate of anywhere from 1/2 lb to 2 lbs per day, depending on brand and formulation. This makes them an economical choice for the smallest farm to the largest cow-calf operation or horse farm. Multiple tub sizes make it possible to ensure that your animals are receiving a product that is consumed in a timely manner.
  2. Tubs allow animals to self-moderate consumption. Good tubs will have a limiter built into them to prevent overeating — particularly molasses-based tubs, where the sweet flavor can be irresistible. That being said, most animals will eat only what their bodies require to sustain a proper energy balance. For instance, you may have noticed that your horse will visit the mineral block more frequently after a strenuous workout. This is because his body is telling him he needs to replenish the minerals and electrolytes lost through exercise. Tubs allow your animals to regulate what they consume when they need it, taking the guesswork out of top-dressing and mixing supplements into rations.
  3. Weather-resistant formulas ensure product quality. A good tub will not be affected by rain, snow, wind or sun, assuring that the nutritional integrity will be preserved. Pelleted and granular feeds can be ruined by any of these weather factors, leading to feed waste and lost money.
  4. Multiple formulations for different regions and life stages. The variety of tubs available allows the specific needs of individuals or groups of animals to be met. For instance, cattle grazing on lower-quality pasture may need extra protein, while nursing cows often need a boost in calcium and fat.
  5. Economical and easy to store. Because tubs have a long shelf life and take up relatively little space, they can become an economical way to supplement horses and cattle. Often times, money can be saved by ordering a larger quantity of tubs and storing them until they’re needed. This also allows for rotation throughout the year, should nutrient requirements change (for example, high energy tubs for colder months and more mineral-dense for hotter months).

As you can see, tubs are a beneficial addition to your feeding regimens. The versatility and ease of use make them a great option for both the large or small livestock operation.

If you’d like to explore adding tubs to your feeding regimen, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

© 2019 Pro Earth Animal Health.