In many cases, death is the first sign of clostridial diseases to appear; by the time the disease can be identified, it’s often too late. Most cow/calf producers are familiar with blackleg, but it is just one of several clostridial diseases that can cause significant losses for beef producers. Clostridial diseases are highly pathogenic and can affect cattle quickly. It’s important to vaccinate to keep cows and calves safe from these hard-to-control spores.

Clostridia are anaerobic spores, which allow the bacteria to live in the soil for long periods of time. There are two ways for cattle to contract clostridial disease: ingestion of the spores, or through open wounds that allow the spores to enter.

Clostridial diseases that challenge the herd

Clostridium chauvoei, more commonly known as blackleg, is the clostridial disease that many beef producers encounter. Other clostridial species include enterotoxemia (Cl. perfringens Types A, B, C and D), tetanus (Cl. tetani) and malignant edema (Cl. septicum and Cl. sordellii).

Producers in the Northern Plains face significant threats from blackleg and enterotoxemia. According to Dr. Jerry Woodruff, Professional Services Veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., all ages and classes of cattle are vulnerable to these diseases, but young animals are the most vulnerable.

“Young animals, especially those that have not been vaccinated, are uniquely vulnerable to threats from clostridial diseases,” he says. “Getting the vaccination program started just after birth is a great way to protect the health of the calf, and of the rest of the herd.”

Dr. Woodruff says that the best way to stop clostridial diseases is to protect the animal before infection sets in. “Prevention of clostridial disease is critical because once clinical signs appear, treatment isn’t always effective,” he says.  “Clostridial diseases are highly pathogenic; to prevent an outbreak, I recommend vaccinating calves early — before they go to grass.”