STD causes problems for Louisiana cattle, but can be managed

Linda Benedict, Navarre, Christine B., Pitman, William D.  |  6/26/2009 12:58:13 AM

News Release Distributed 06/25/09

BOSSIER CITY, La. – Normally, people think of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) as a problem for humans, but there’s one that’s emerged in the past few years as a problem for cattle in Louisiana. It’s called trichomoniasis, or trich, for short.

LSU AgCenter scientists offered ideas for managing this disease among cattle as well as more productive and efficient ways to raise forage for cattle at the Red River Research Station field day on June 18.

Though trich is not a new disease, it had been reported infrequently in Louisiana until after the hurricanes of 2005, according to Dr. Christine Navarre, LSU AgCenter extension veterinarian and one of the field day speakers. Because of the hurricanes, a lot of cattle were dispersed.

“With all the movement of cattle and new cattle coming into the state to replace cattle lost in the storms, there’s been the opportunity for this disease to spread and to be reintroduced,” Navarre said.

The disease, which is carried by bulls, is costly to herds because it causes early embryonic death and early abortions.

“There’s no cure for this disease. There’s no magic bullet,” she said, adding the only way to get rid of the disease is through careful management, which can take four or five years. The disease poses no risk to the food supply.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell by looking at a bull or a cow whether the animal has the disease. The clues that trich is in your herd can take a couple of years to figure out. The biggest clue is the calving rate.

“It should be at least 85 percent on average. If it goes down to 40 percent, you may have trich in your herd,” Navarre said, adding once the disease is in a herd for a few years, the calving rate may go back up, but not to normal.

“It is easily missed unless good records are kept,” she said.

In the process of aborting, the cows often clean themselves of the infection. But some infected cows can carry a calf to full-term, and then the calf is infected as well.

The best remedy is to buy virgin bulls or bulls that have been tested for trich, although the tests aren’t precise, Navarre said. She recommends getting three tests to help determine if the bull has trich.

Navarre advises using caution when borrowing or loaning a bull.

“If your neighbor wants to borrow a bull, tell him you’ll sell it to him,” she said.

Another remedy is to use artificial insemination. But Louisiana cattle producers tend not to do this because of cost.

William D. “Buddy” Pitman, a forage researcher at the LSU AgCenter’s Hill Farm Research Station in Homer, La., reported the latest research on improving forage production in beef cattle pastures during his talk at the field day.

In one of his research plots at the Red River Station, Pitman is testing a new variety of dallisgrass that offers good quality forage for grazing cattle and is productive on the fertile, bottomland soils of Louisiana, such as in Bossier Parish where the station is.

“Dallisgrass has not been widely planted in Louisiana in recent years because of establishment difficulties, but this new variety has the advantage of improved establishment,” Pitman said, adding that he hopes this new variety, developed at the LSU AgCenter, will be on the market soon.

Pitman is a proponent of using clover in pastures because of its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, which acts as a fertilizer for the summer forage crops.

That’s why he’s not much in favor of using herbicides on pastures because herbicides kill the clover.

“A lot of pasture weed control is cosmetic. And we don’t have good herbicide options in pastures containing clovers,” said Pitman. “We need to get away from using too much herbicide.”

He recommends that cattle producers graze their cattle more intensively and use higher stocking rates early in the season while weeds are smaller and more palatable to the cattle.

“Use the animals as much as you can and spot-spray the weeds as needed,” he said.

Blair Buckley, an LSU AgCenter researcher at the Red River Station, is breeding new varieties of cowpea that show promise as a forage. Like clover, it’s a crop that fixes nitrogen in the soil so saves the farmer on fertilizer costs, which have been high in the past few years.

The cowpea, which is also known as a southern pea, is also attractive to wildlife. It would be a good crop to plant on land people want to use for hunting deer or quail.

Research conducted at the Red River Station includes row crop production, water quality, greenhouse tomato production and beef cattle. It is one of 20 research stations across the state operated by the LSU AgCenter.

Linda Foster Benedict

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