Dustin Oedekoven: Protect cowherd against anthrax
April 22, 2011
Spring is in full swing, and for many ranchers, that means added stress from weather – rain, snow, floods and mud. Spring also means calving season, where most of the focus is getting those new calves off to a strong start. With all of these element to consider, the overall health of the cowherd can easily be overlooked.
South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven, DVM, reminds ranchers to consider vaccinating livestock against anthrax.
“Flooding across the state has created conditions that are favorable for anthrax,” explained Oedekoven. “Anthrax spores lie dormant in the soil and can become active under conditions such as heavy rainfall, flooding or drought. These weather conditions can disturb the soil and expose anthrax to the cattle. Temperature and weather changes make the spores active.”
Officials say vaccination is the best method to prevent anthrax.
“Unvaccinated animals often die suddenly after being exposed to the bacteria, and there isn’t an opportunity for treatment,” added Oedekoven. “South Dakota sits square in the middle of an endemic anthrax zone. We are in an area where we see anthrax not infrequently. Our soil conditions seem to be favorable for the anthrax bacterial spores to stay dormant for an indefinite amount of time.”
The anthrax organism (Bacillus anthracis) has the ability to form spores and become resistant to adverse conditions. The anthrax spore may live indefinitely in the soil of a contaminated pasture or yard. Once a cow is exposed to anthrax, it can be difficult to diagnose before it’s too late.
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“The first sign most ranchers see is sudden death of multiple carcasses dying at once,” explained Oedekoven. “Early signs would be weakness and fever. Rarely is it reported to us that anybody sees those symptoms until it’s too late.”
Anthrax usually is a fatal disease with no symptoms observed. If the infection is less acute, there may be a sudden staggering, difficult breathing, trembling, collapse and death. Symptoms are preceded by fever, with a period of excitement in which the animal may charge anyone nearby. This is followed by depression in cattle or sheep.
“The good news is there is a vaccine available, which is very effective in preventing this disease,” said Oedekoven. “The vaccine is relatively inexpensive, and if your animals do come in contact with anthrax, this is a good investment. I would recommend an annual booster, and the best time is about four weeks before the peak of the season in July. Of course, it would be best for ranchers to visit with their veterinarian about the best time to do that because of regional differences, especially if a producer knows they have had anthrax in the past. In general, some vaccine is better than none; branding time is as good as any.”
In addition to anthrax, there are animal health issues to be concerned about such as grass tetany. Oedekoven stresses the importance of having a good relationship with a veterinarian to put together a comprehensive animal health program.
“South Dakota is a diverse area, so there are certainly some different scenarios that people deal with as far as nutritional concerns, water problems and other factors that go into your health management plan,” said Oedekoven. “In general, I think the cattle outlook is pretty good. We are fortunate to be in a time where we have the healthiest livestock herd in history. We are free of tuberculosis and brucellosis.”
Another caution to be aware of is rabies, which can quickly become dangerous for people and animals.
“Livestock and pet owners also need to watch out for rabies and think about their kids’ summer 4-H projects,” warned Oedekoven. “For both small and large animals, rabies is out there.”
Oedekoven’s sound advice can help to ensure optimal animal health in the calves and their mothers. Spring weather worries mixed with the added adventure of calving season can certainly add extra stress to ranchers, but worries like anthrax, rabies and grass tetany don’t need to catch producers off-guard. Be mindful of Oedekoven’s suggestions and have a healthy cowherd heading into the summer months.