When buying bulls or replacement heifers, most ranchers take precautions to prevent them from bringing BVD and respiratory diseases into their herd. But there is a disease that will cost a lot more than treatments for those health issues – trichomoniasis.

It’s trich in more common terms, a bovine venereal disease that can cut a calf crop in half or more if not corralled. For a cow-calf producer, there’s not another disease that compares to the losses that can result from trich.

With the severity of the disease, many states have adopted mandatory trich testing and reporting. Greater disease awareness by ranchers results in increased surveillance of high-risk cattle in their herds. Knowing the trich status of your bulls is essential, especially in trich-prone areas.

Trich is often more apparent in areas where there is open range, such as parts of the Western U.S. Also, the Gulf Coast in states like Texas, Louisiana and Florida has been a trich hotbed with outbreaks that have hurt many producers. Trich has also been a problem in many Central Plains states, outpacing bovine genital campylobacteriosis (vibrio) by as many as 10 to 1, according to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

Trich is caused by a tiny protozoan parasite, Tritrichomonas foetus. In the cow, the parasite colonizes in the vagina and uterus. In bulls, it colonizes or lives in epithelial folds on the skin of the penis and prepuce.

When a bull is infected with trich, it transmits the disease to virtually any female it services. Cows may either become infertile or abort their calves. The disease survives in the sheath of an infected bull’s penis, notes J.J. Goicoechea, Nevada state veterinarian. “If an infected bull services cows and [producers don’t preg-check], it could be a wreck very quickly,” he says.

High risk factors  

Many situations can promote a trich-infested herd. They include: purchasing non-virgin females; purchasing older bulls of unknown origin or no health background; fence line contact with animals of unknown health background; grazing public lands with herds having different health programs; poor fences; no defined breeding season and not keeping records to help evaluate herd performance.

When bulls are infected with trich, it is a considered a lifelong infection that is untreatable. Cows are also potential carriers. While cows can clear the disease, they will likely lose the calf, which is why it’s important to check your cows for pregnancy.

If an abnormally high number of cows come up open, it might be wise to test for trich. The best method is to test your bulls. Testing bulls for trich involves collecting a smegma sample from inside the penis sheath. It can be more difficult than assumed. “The test is only as good as the scrape,” Goicoechea says, adding that producers should test bulls 30 to 45 days after the breeding season.

If a bull tests positive, test him two more times to confirm the disease, Goicoechea adds, noting that “virgin bulls” can also be positive if they have mingled with trich-positive animals. Consider culling open cows, as well as those that have recently lost a pregnancy, and be sure to report any positive trich cases to your state’s animal health agency.

It’s essential to work with a veterinarian if trich is suspected. Once it is identified, producers need to work closely with their veterinarian, as well as regulatory officials. Trich is easily transmitted. Once the organism is introduced in a herd, the damages can be staggering.

Along with taking steps to prevent the damaging effects of Trich on their ranches, Goicoechea encourages producers to make extended efforts to inform their neighbors of the potential exposure of their herd to trich. “Call your neighbor and let him know if any cattle in your herd test positive for trich,” he says.

Testing regs vary

While it’s important to identify the disease early through licensed state testing entities, few states have the same trich testing procedures. Some are stricter than others. As an example, the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) states that breeding bulls more than 12 months old and entering Texas from another state must have a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) and a negative trich test within 60 days before entering the state.

In addition, non-virgin, untested bulls may enter Texas directly to slaughter, to a feedyard that has entered into a TAHC Trich Certified Facility Agreement for cattle destined for slaughter, or a federally approved livestock market accompanied by a permit from the TAHC.

A CVI must accompany the untested bulls. It must include the entry permit number and a statement that the bull must be trich tested or sold for slaughter. All breeding bulls must be officially identified before entry.

Producers are advised to work with their veterinarian to recognize threats of the disease and to know which state or regional testing entities are responsible for verifying trich test data in their area.

There is no cure for Trich once an animal contracts it. However, a commercially available vaccine has demonstrated improved calf crops in the face of a severe trich challenge. Studies show that when vaccinating for trich is part of a herd health protocol, exposed females are more likely to deliver a live calf, says John Davidson, senior associate director of beef cattle professional services for Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health.

“The economic considerations of trich are huge,” Davidson says. “They center around lost pregnancies and also regulatory efforts that require infected animals to go to slaughter. You get packer prices for your valuable seedstock and exposed females are culled. For a cow-calf producer, there’s not another disease that comes close to the economic impact of trich.”

Stalcup is a freelance writer based in Amarillo, Texa