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4-minute read

Pinkeye in Cattle Can Reduce Beef Calf Weaning Weight

Beef calves in the pasture.
Dr. Chris Ashworth, DVM

Global RNS Species Leader – Beef
Zinpro Corporation

Pinkeye, in its most common form, is a bacterial disease of the cornea of the eye although, in animals, it can also be caused by a virus. When a human becomes infected with pinkeye, it often only results in a sick day from work or school. In cattle, goats and sheep on the other hand, it is far more costly as it can lead to lower weaning weights and lower production levels, which ultimately reduces profits for animal producers.

While working with cooperator herds, professors at Iowa State University found that calves infected with and treated for pinkeye had a 30-pound reduction in weaning weight per calf. This should give cattle producers plenty of financial incentive to prevent pinkeye in their herds. On top of that, many producers often fail to recognize that it is a very painful condition for calves to experience.

Now, let’s take a high-level look at pinkeye, how it comes to infect calves, how you can treat it and prevent outbreaks in your herd.

A Complex Bacterial Infection

When I graduated from veterinary school 33 years ago, pinkeye was seen as an infection only caused by the bacteria Moraxella bovis. Today, we know that it is a much more complex disease with as many as seven different organisms involved. While Moraxella bovis is still a predominant bacterium causing pinkeye, another severe pathogen called Moraxella bovoculi is also a common culprit. Other pinkeye-causing pathogens include Mycoplasma bovis, Mycoplasma ovis and Moraxella ovis.

The complexity makes managing pinkeye more difficult for cattle producers since it’s hard to tell exactly which bacteria is responsible. With an outbreak of pinkeye, producers must spend money on diagnostics to determine the best course of treatment and which vaccines to use to prevent further spread, which increases costs.

Colostrum Immunity Can Protect a Calf From Pinkeye Early

The bacteria that cause pinkeye often exist in a carrier state in older adult cattle. The carrier group will continually produce antibodies for that particular strain. It is believed that calves may actually be exposed to the bacteria at the time of calving, but the infection is kept under control by colostrum immunity. In younger cattle, colostrum immunity appears to be quite protective for the first six to eight weeks of life. Therefore, when these bacteria infect younger calves, they may not even produce clinical disease.

As colostral antibody levels in the blood start to fall, there is a good chance the calf will have an outbreak of clinical pinkeye if it has not been vaccinated for the particular bacteria that is responsible. An ulcer could develop on the cornea and the eye may become cloudy with the white blood cells attempting to get the infection under control. Additional swelling and fluid buildup in the cornea can also cause the eye to look cloudy.

Antibiotics for Treating Pinkeye in Cattle; Vaccines for Prevention

Clinical cases of pinkeye should be treated with antibiotics, but treatment takes time and patience. Calves that are two to six months old are the hardest calves to corral for treatment. They are in an independent stage of life and coming up for feed is, in many cases, something they are not interested in, which can make treatment difficult.

Also consider that once an antibiotic is used to treat pinkeye, cattle must go through a withdrawal period that producers must make note of in their records. This makes it more difficult to market the treated calf in the days and weeks following the infection, delaying or decreasing profit, considering that most producers are marketing calves in groups.

Improve Immunity To Pinkeye With Performance Trace Minerals

If you have a pinkeye outbreak in your herd, you should consult your veterinarian to discuss treatment options. You should also consider choosing a vaccine to prevent these bacteria from infecting your herd in the future. Trace mineral nutrition is also important for preventing pinkeye.

Zinc plays an important role in the health of the eye. It is critical for holding the corneal cells together with gap junction and tight junction proteins. Many of these proteins contain zinc, and if there is not enough zinc in the ration, the integrity of the cornea will not be as strong. Feeding zinc amino acid complexes helps with corneal health.

A rapid and robust immune response is also key to managing pinkeye in cattle. Supplementing your beef cattle nutrition program with Zinpro Performance Minerals® can help beef cows produce high-quality colostrum and ensure that calves are protected from bacterial infections early in their lives.

To learn more about including Zinpro Performance Minerals in your beef cattle nutrition program, contact your Zinpro representative today.

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