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Trichomoniasis: A New Look at an Old Disease

Posted Apr. 30, 2009

Every rancher has probably been in the situation of either calling a neighbor to tell him his cattle are in your pasture or asking if he has seen your cattle. We have all heard the saying, "It's 10:00 p.m.; do you know where your children are?" Maybe we need to have a similar saying for the cattle business: "It's Monday, do you know where your cattle are?" or "Do you know who your cows are with?" Is that expensive bull that you bought last year visiting the neighbor's cows that he picked up at the sale barn? Are those cows carrying something that you don't want your bull to bring home? These are all valid questions you should think about.

One of the diseases you don't want your bull to get, let alone to bring home to your cows, is trichomoniasis. Trichomoniasis, or "trich," is a cattle venereal disease caused by the protozoa Tritrichomonas foetus. Trich is carried by the bull. Once infected, he will always have it and will show no outward signs of disease. There are no approved treatments or vaccines for bulls.

In cows, trichomoniasis may be revealed by abortions, extended breeding season or, in controlled breeding seasons, a reduced calf crop. Recently infected cows may exhibit a mild white, sticky discharge from the vulva, which can last up to two months. Infected cows usually abort within 10 days of infection. Cows will usually clear up in four to five months if they have no breeding activity. Cows can be vaccinated with a moderate degree of success, but the cost is about $3-$6 per head annually.

This disease has found its way south and east in the past few years. Currently, 16 states have developed regulations for trichomoniasis. Trich has made the news most recently in Louisiana and Texas, which have implemented new regulations for the disease.

The Texas trichomoniasis program is a two-stage program, with the first stage implemented on April 1, 2009, and stage two on Jan. 1, 2010. As of April 1, 2009, breeding bulls entering the state must be 24 months of age and certified as virgin, OR bulls must test negative for trich within 30 days prior to entry into the state. Non-virgin, untested breeding-age bulls may enter the state for sale for slaughter only. A breeder's certificate with the animal's age, identification and breeder's signature, and certificate of veterinary inspection issued within 30 days must accompany the virgin bull. All bulls must be officially identifiable by a brucellosis ear tag, an official 840 electronic identification (EID) tag, brand, tattoo or state trich tag. Non-virgin bulls must have tested negative within 30 days on at least one PCR test or on three consecutive, official culture tests conducted not less than one week apart.

The second stage of the Texas trichomoniasis program begins on Jan. 1, 2010. It will require that breeding bulls offered for sale, lease, exchange or otherwise changing possession for breeding within the state either be certified as virgin bulls or test negative prior to selling, loaning, exchanging, giving or otherwise changing possession.

Only certified veterinarians can collect the samples for submission to the state diagnostic laboratory. If you have a bull that returns as positive, this means it is infected. The disease is now considered a reportable disease, which means that notification is sent to the Texas Animal Health Commission. A positive bull has a one-way ticket to the slaughter plant. Additionally, the remainder of the bull herd must test negative at least twice on a RT-PCR test prior to sale or exposure to females.

The Oklahoma trichomoniasis program for bulls coming into the state is the same as the first stage of the Texas trich program. Oklahoma does not require bulls changing ownership within the state to be certified as trichomoniasis-free.

The development of these programs emphasizes that biosecurity on the ranch is paramount. In the case of trich, there is no cure for the disease, thus, prevention of exposure is the best method of control. For more information on the disease and biosecurity, contact a livestock consultant, state extension specialist or your veterinarian.