Livestock producers work hard to keep their herds healthy, but illness is often unavoidable. Some very easily transmitted but serious ailments can be traced back to one source: clostridial bacteria.
Clostridia are spore-forming bacteria often found in the soil, manure or contaminated feedstuffs. Unlike many other disease-causing bacteria, clostridia are not contagious or passed from animal to animal. Cattle either get clostridia by ingesting it or through a cut or open wound. It can remain dormant in the animal’s body until something creates favorable conditions for the bacteria to thrive—if the animal eats too much starch or carbohydrates, for example, or experiences an internal or external tissue injury.
In replacement calves fed milk, the rapid onset of symptoms such as abdominal pain, depression and feed refusal can be associated with clostridia, specifically Clostridium perfringens. This type of clostridial bacteria is particularly concerning to cattle producers. It can have a major impact on an animal’s gut health, especially calves that are less than 2 months old. If a clostridia infection is not treated quickly and reversed, toxins get into the bloodstream and the calf goes into shock. Death can follow in a matter of hours.
Over a number of years, university researchers collected and analyzed 1,200 dairy calf fecal samples from the seven big dairy states. Three out of four samples were positive for clostridia, and its presence was most prevalent during calf’s first 21 days in the hutches. These young animals don’t yet have a strong immune system because they have not developed a fully functioning rumen or a complete gut flora to combat the dangerous bacteria. Being on a milk-feeding program tends to encourage clostridia to proliferate.
If a calf has a clostridia infection, the initial response is to follow your veterinarian’s advice. Actions often include providing fluids, electrolytes, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics and analgesics. However, the prognosis of successful treatment response tends to be poor. Reducing the likelihood of clostridia infections gives the biggest bang for the buck.
The most effective practice is to maintain squeaky-clean hygiene and sanitation. In dirt, clostridia are ubiquitous. That is where they live. They also like to take up residence in the animal’s gastro-intestinal tract. If there is dirt present on equipment, instruments, bottles and udders, there’s a good chance clostridia could be on them, too.
This calf-feeding checklist can help mitigate the risk:
1. When collecting colostrum, initially wash, disinfect and wipe the udder and teats clean.
2. As soon as possible, preferably within the first couple of hours, hygienically milk the dam, using sanitized equipment.
3. Unless the colostrum will be fed that day, refrigerate or freeze it.
4. Adequately wash and sanitize all milking, storage and feeding equipment. Ensure that no fat film or residue is on feeding equipment surfaces.
Most calves from properly vaccinated dams have good maternal immunity to clostridial diseases, with blackleg being the most significant for animals at 3 to 4 months of age. Ideally, calves should be vaccinated around that 4-month time period with a clostridial vaccine.
While clostridia vaccines have certainly been helpful, there are a large number of strains that may not be controlled as successfully. That’s why vaccines should be combined with good sanitation, hygiene and nutrition to reduce the risk of clostridia. Using a product that contains MFA Shield Technology can also be beneficial. The all-natural blend of essential oils and additives includes prebiotics and probiotics that improve an animal’s gut health. Taking care to prevent health challenges is always more effective than treating outbreaks.
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