Ranchers living in the arid and semi-arid country of the Southern Plains are used to dry weather, but the current drought has moved beyond the typical definition of ‘dry.’ High feed costs and little grass and water – both products of the drought – have caused those ranchers to look for other options to maintain their cows.

Herd attrition in areas affected by severe drought in the south has moved cattle east toward areas with grass. As the cows move, the risk of trichomoniasis (trich) is showing up in new areas.

"We continue to see more cases of trich as the disease moves east," says Mac Devin, Professional Services Veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. "In the past three years we've seen new cases of trich in Texas, but also in the states to the east of us – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Missouri – where prevalence is normally lower." Caused by a protozoan (Tritrichomonas foetus), trich is a protozoal disease transmitted only by sexual contact. With no visible signs, it causes abortion and leaves cows temporarily infertile. It's difficult to spot and can spread through a herd rapidly during breeding season.

Herds that become infected with trich usually see a 20-30 percent drop (and in some cases more) in pregnancy rates, which can be economically devastating to a cow herd. This drop in pregnancy rates usually occurs around 90 days of gestation; this is after the cow recognizes pregnancy, so she may not begin to cycle for 6-9 weeks after losing the pregnancy. Further, it takes the uterus a while to heal enough to support pregnancy, so as much as 120 days of a production year may be lost. 

If you are able to get the affected cows rebred, calves will be born much later than the rest of the herd. And, factoring in an average weight gain of 1.5 to 2 pounds per day, the calf will be 120-150 pounds lighter than the rest of the calf crop. At today’s prices, producers will take a significant loss.

“The less time we have cows cycling in the herd, the less chance we have for transmission of trich, because it is transmitted through breeding,” Dr. Devin adds. “Having those cows in adequate body condition (5 to 5.5) to breed rapidly and having a good herd health program in place to minimize the risk of other reproductive diseases are vital parts of a trich control program and are good defenses against this disease.”