There’s a simple solution to the increase of clostridial cases

Beef 911: Vaccines for the clostridial diseases are the cheapest on the market, but often aren’t given

All cattle should receive clostridial immunization, since it’s so affordable. It’s especially important for dairy cattle.

There has definitely been a trend upwards of the various forms of clostridial disease seen primarily inside housed dairy cattle.

This article will explore how it is possible for these cases to occur and how there are still an alarming number of dairy and beef producers who don’t vaccinate, vaccinate sporadically, or forget about booster vaccinating.

Since vaccines for the clostridial diseases are, overall, the cheapest on the market, it behooves us to remember to vaccinate and develop a routine vaccination protocol with your veterinarian. The choice of vaccine may vary slightly from area to area, depending on the clostridial organisms prevalent in your region.

Clostridial organisms are spore-producing bacteria that live in the soil and can last for decades (50 years plus). The spores are frequently ingested, and often bruising, liver damage, and a myriad of other problems can trigger a clinical case. Survival, even with vigorous treatment, is very rare.

Vaccination with the multivalent clostridial vaccines (up to a nine-way is approved in Canada for beef and dairy cattle) is quite protective if done according to label directions. Dairies also get the sporadic hemorrhagic bowel syndrome (also called jejunal hemorrhagic syndrome) in which Clostridium perfringens A is thought to be involved. Unfortunately there is no vaccine licensed in Canada, but some dairy producers are bringing in a vaccine specifically for this condition under an EDR (emergency drug release).

In Ontario, there has been a growing number of clostridial disease cases, primarily caused by Clostridium septicum and Clostridium chauvei, showing up in dairy cattle. Every year there are a number of outbreaks occurring in calves at pasture in Canada, so we know it is in the soil in abundance in some locations.

So how is soil from the fields getting into dairy barns? First off, if heifers are pastured at any time in their life, exposure is possible. Secondly, baled hay often can contain dirt thrown up by pickups and if pocket gophers are present they drag up lots of soil to the surface.

A prominent veterinarian, Dr. Mac Littlejohn of the Kirkton & St. Mary’s veterinary group in Ontario, has said that since the advent of disc bines (versus sickle haybines), he has seen an increased incidence — most likely from more dirt getting thrown into the swath. Disc bines have many advantages over sickle mowers, so this is no means a negative on them.

The bottom line is one must vaccinate dairy cattle — plain and simple. Any type of excavating or dirt being brought in by farm equipment or other vehicles on the tires has the possibility of containing clostridial spores. It is often a critical mass of spores that is necessary before we see clinical disease (that with most of these organisms, leads to sudden death). An autopsy by your veterinarian is necessary to confirm it.

This is why it is also imperative to have sudden deaths and other deaths autopsied. We need the sample for BSE submission, but most importantly we need to find out the actual cause of death. This also helps us in our vaccination decisions.

Dairymen or dairywomen these days use more synchronization programs such as Ov-sync or Co-sync that require GnRh and prostaglandin shots to complete. On the label of all prostaglandins, there is a warning of the rare possibility of the bruising created by the administration of the prostaglandin initiating a clostridial myositis. These can occur in almost any outbreak form in naive dairy cattle.

Years ago, veterinarians would recommend boostering your clostridial coverage every five years or so. But now with the increasing incidence of clostridial redwater deaths in the west and concentrated pockets of clostridial spores in some pastures across Canada, mature cows are often done yearly — and in some cases, twice yearly where redwater is prevalent.

Clostridial vaccines continue to be cheap insurance and with intestinal clostridium perfringens showing up, it pays to vaccinate. Have your herd veterinarian review your clostridial prevention on the farm and make sure there are no gaps in your clostridial coverage. Make sure to booster young calves at weaning and remember to do your mature cows, even if they are mainly confined inside the barn for most of their lives.

In the dairy barn, some herd veterinarians booster the whole herd at once but with any vaccine given to dairy cattle a short-term decrease in milk production is expected, so most give it at the dry-off period.

The vaccine can be purchased in 10-dose size up to 125-dose size, so there is vaccine that fits all situations. Most clostridial vaccines have a dosage of two cc s.c. and some vaccines have histophilus in them as well which may be prescribed for your calves.

Let’s all vaccinate for clostridial disease and prevent the dreaded sudden death the disease causes. The clostridial vaccines are also generally approved for organic beef or milking programs, but confirm the specific vaccine first.

In a rough poll I conducted of many veterinarians and herd owners, dairy cows were the most frequently missed followed by beef herd bulls. Calves are more commonly vaccinated at least once, but often the booster shot is missed or is given many months after — creating a gap between vaccines where the calves are very susceptible. With spores lasting as long as they do, the only way to prevent cases is by vaccinating. And if any vaccine gives close to 100 per cent protection, it is the clostridia vaccines if they are administered properly. But remember to booster as well.

About the author


Roy Lewis practised large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and now works part time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.



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