Record-breaking beef prices only make the problem worse. Besides being a herd health and biosecurity nightmare, trichomoniasis is costing producers missed dollars across the country. In states like Arkansas, emergency bull testing requirements were passed this summer due to outbreaks. In Colorado, the Board of Animal Health is reminding producers of the importance of testing because of seven trich-positive areas in that state. The list of affected states could go on. Trich is becoming more prevalent and costly every day, and you simply can’t ignore it anymore. 

The infection begins with wandering cattle

Cows that interact with trichomoniasis-infected bulls — whether yours or those from a neighboring herd — run a strong risk of becoming infected themselves. Unlike cows, infected bulls show no symptoms of the disease and are hard to identify without testing.

When cows breed with an infected bull, the organism that causes trichomoniasis, Tritrichomonas foetus, attaches itself to the vaginal wall. This environment is perfect for T. foetus, with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5 and thick walls for easy attachment. Once they’re attached, the organisms will colonize and spread throughout the uterus and oviducts, causing the uterus to have an inflammatory response.

Trich causes big problems

It is likely that the cow will still conceive after breeding with the infected bull. The infection she contracts, however, will ultimately lead to embryonic death or abortion, due to the inflammatory response of the uterus.

In some cases, the inflammatory response will occur within the first 18 days after breeding. When this happens, cows usually return to heat in their next 21-day cycle. Those cows returning to heat can have the ability to infect any bull that breeds her until she clears the uterus of infection, which can take up to 80 days. In most situations, embryonic death will occur between 50 and 60 days post breeding. When this happens, there may be an abortion of a small fetus or a pyometra formation (a pus-filled uterus). In very rare cases, it may take anywhere from seven to eight months for the infection to result in an inflammatory response and, ultimately, abortion.

Making a decision

When you pregnancy-check your cows and find that one is open, you will have a decision to make. Do you breed her again or cull her? It takes anywhere from two to four months for the trichomoniasis infection to clear her system, which may affect any rebreeding and could pose a risk to healthy herd bulls. Beyond that, the cow will have a lighter calf due to late breeding, and will most likely calve later than the rest of the herd for her entire lifetime.

The Economic Implications of Infected Cows

One trichomoniasis-infected animal can spread disease throughout your entire herd, with the possibility of reducing your calf crop by as much as 50 percent. In a 100-head herd, you could lose $20,000 or more. Reasons for economic losses are threefold:

1.There is a smaller calf crop due to early embryonic loss or abortion.

2.Weaning weight is lower because conception is later.

3.Infected cattle must be culled and replaced, thereby losing the herd’s genetic improvement.

If a calf is born 60 days later than the rest of the herd due to late breeding and it gains about 2 pounds per day, the calf will be nearly 120 pounds lighter than the rest of the calf crop. At today’s market price, you could be losing nearly $150 for every late calf born in a single season and $800 to $1,200 over the lifetime of the cow.

It is also important to consider herds that operate with a limited breeding season. These herds simply do not have time for cows to recover from trichomoniasis and also get bred. It can take years for these late-calving cows to catch up, if they ever do.

In these two situations, reduced weaning weights and culled cows, the economic loss can be very significant.

Preventing trichomoniasis

While the bull is the primary disease carrier, preventive measures can help reduce trichomoniasis prevalence among both bulls and cows. Early prevention may also be the best option for those cattle that have the opportunity to mingle with neighboring herds that are out of your control.

  • Cull infected bulls and cows - Infected bulls are infected for life and will do nothing more than spread the disease throughout your cowherd. Culling is the only option. Additionally, open or late-calving cows are likely to be trichomoniasis carriers and should be culled. While trichomoniasis is shorter-lasting in cows than bulls because the organisms are passed, it is possible for infected cows to breed with a clean bull before that happens, hence turning him into a carrier.
  • Be selective with replacement animals - When possible, all replacement animals should be virgins, test negative for T. foetus, and come from a reputable source.
  • Consider implementing or expanding an AI program - Use of artificial insemination (AI) will reduce the need for herd bulls and, subsequently, the chance of trichomoniasis spread.
  • Maintain your fences - You can prevent disease in your own herd, but you must also protect your herd from neighboring cattle that may be harboring infection out of your control. Reducing interaction between herds will help stop trichomoniasis from affecting your cattle.
  • Vaccinate your entire herd - Vaccination is especially important if you share fence with another herd, utilize open grazing lands, or have a known trichomoniasis problem in your area.

Why You Should Vaccinate

While there is no treatment for trichomoniasis, there is currently one vaccine available that has been proven to aid in the prevention of disease caused by Tritrichomonas foetus. TrichGuard® and TrichGuard® V5L, available from Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., are the first vaccines to protect against T. foetus devastation.

In a university study, TrichGuard improved calving percentages by more than 90 percent compared to unvaccinated cows.1 While it won’t prevent trichomoniasis in your cowherd, vaccinating with TrichGuard vaccine will help lessen its impact and reduce calving losses resulting from trichomoniasis.In this same research, vaccination with TrichGuard stimulated a local antibody response in vaccinates. Reports also demonstrate that anti-trich antibodies such as these are found in the reproductive-tract secretions of infected individuals.

Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. (St. Joseph, MO) is a subsidiary of Boehringer Ingelheim Corporation, based in Ridgefield, CT, and a member of the Boehringer Ingelheim group of companies.