With high input costs and tight profit margins, the last thing ranchers need is a wreck. Whether it is health related or the pounding of cattle prices, wrecks can rise to take the unwary and unprepared out at the knees.

Frank Helvey faced one of the worst when 400 of his 600 cows came up open in a perfect breeding season. It was a half-million-dollar disaster. That was in 2007 – “the year I got a ‘doctorate’ in trich,” Helvey explains.

The devastated South Texas rancher and auction barn operator described his wreck situation at a recent Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) conference. When cows came up open, he sought answers from not only his local vet, but those in several surrounding states. Helvey finally learned that 16 of his bulls were infected with bovine trichomoniasis (trich).

The disease was new to his region, but had caused calving problems in a few other areas. Determined to get the facts on the disease, he learned, among other things, that those 16 bulls were forever worthless as sires.

Tritrichomonas foetus is the causative agent of trich, which is characterized by infertility, early embryonic death, rare abortions and pyometra in cows and heifers. The organism resides on the bull’s penis and infects females during breeding. The organisms attach to her vaginal wall, colonize and spread throughout the uterus and oviducts, causing an inflammatory response in the uterus.

Even though the cow or heifer will conceive, the infection will ultimately lead to embryonic death or abortion. Infected cows usually return to heat in their next 21-day cycle. If they’re bred by an uninfected bull, he is then infected and the cycle repeats itself. Cows will eventually clear themselves of the infection after four or five cycles, but once the bull gets infected, he will be a bellerin’ wreck waiting to happen for the rest of his life.

Helvey has a plan to avoid trich again. No untested bull will set a hoof on his ranch and bulls are isolated from his cowherd for four months.

“We make sure every bull is trich-tested. I also make sure every bull that goes through our auction (in Pearsall, TX) is tested,” he says.

The Texas Animal Health Commission, with input from Helvey, veterinarians, TSCRA and others, has developed regulations to help stop spread of the disease. Texas joins at least 20 other states now requiring trich testing, the cost of which is about $25/head.

Vets in states where trich hasn’t been highly detected warn producers to make sure bulls are tested before buying them. One key threat to trich infections is wandering cattle. So good fencing and knowledge of the neighbor’s herd can be the first step not getting “tricked” into a wreck.