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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                     September 2003

  Hi Folks,

            After skipping a month of the Moo News, I want to update you first on a few office changes. As you may have found out, I have switched to a cell phone that I keep in my pocket instead of the answering service. This is so I can talk to you directly and avoid confusion through the answering service. The flip side to this is that you may occasionally need to leave a message if I am busy working on a cow (calving, surgery). Please leave the message! I will have heard the phone ringing in my pocket and will know to check the message as soon I can. And let’s remember that if I call you, I usually get a message machine anyway. The whole idea is that with the cell phone in my pocket, I can talk with you directly and more easily. However, that doesn’t mean to call in for a lame cow at 9:15 in the morning – please keep calls between 6:30-8:00 AM for regular farm calls for that day in order to avoid a late/emergency charge. Of course an emergency call is always accepted. One other thing is now that we live locally in the 717 area code, we no longer have need for the toll free number (like when we lived outside the 717 area code). So the only number you need to call to get me is 529-0155. Thanks! 

            Although pinkeye season is somewhat past peak, it is still occurring. Pinkeye is the classic case of a combination of factors giving rise to a pesky but not fatal disease. This is when the term ‘holistic management’ can be seen working or not. (By ‘holistic’ I mean using every available means possible.) The three underlying factors are stress, nutrition, and environment. If one or more of these is out of balance, then the flies that carry the pinkeye germ will start to do damage. It is rare, in my experience, that pinkeye hits animals when all three factors are in balance. But it can happen if there is an unusually potent strain of the pinkeye (Moraxella bovis) strain on the farm. 

            The animals most likely to contract pinkeye are weanlings and fresh cows. Why these two groups? Mainly because these two groups are under the most stress. For fresh cows, the stress upon their system (and lowered immune response capability) is obviously due to calving and the major internal changes that take place. For weanlings, especially those already weaned 1-4 months when the flies make their appearance, they are stressed from the nutritional change from a rich milk diet to usually the poorest feed on the farm, coupled with parasites (worms and/or coccidia). Environmental factors for both weanlings and other animals include unclipped pastures where animals need to reach through rank growth to get to the younger more desirable succulent growth, thereby poking their eyes and irritating them. Flies are attracted to moisture and they will go for any moist discharge from the eyes very quickly. Animals in good body condition with the correct balance of protein, energy and minerals (add extra iodine) in their ration will likely be able to mount an immune response to the bacteria that flies carry. However, weakened animals will not - such as those weanlings that are pot-bellied with a rough hair coat on poor pasture and always in direct sunlight. Direct sunlight accelerates the infection. I’ve seen pinkeye on both conventional and organic farms this year, but I’ve had more farms with no pinkeye at all this year (both conventional and organic), even though it’s been a really terrible fly year due to all the moisture and humidity. I really began to wonder what the factors were (especially on the organic farms with no pinkeye that cannot use regular fly spray). I really think that the three factors mentioned are the key to whether or not pinkeye occurs. Of the three, I think that correct nutrition (as seen by good body condition) is the most critical for an animal to have the ability to fend off infections of all kinds. Parasitism robs nutrition from animals (especially weanlings) so they require more energy in the feed in order to maintain some sort of balance if no conventional wormer is being used. 

            As far as the actual infection goes, it starts with the eye appearing ‘sleepy and weepy’ with drainage wetting the side of the jaw; then a gray haze is seen in one location or throughout the eye; then squinting and intense pain; then the eye begins a rapid decline towards an angry looking reddish ring around a thick white center; then a tiny ulcer may develop on the center of the eye; then the eye will slowly recover over a few weeks, OR, rarely, it bursts forth its contents which causes permanent blindness in that eye. Normally upon recovery, a slight white ‘dash’ is seen in the eye and the animal will be able to see around that. The usual time frame for this sequence of events is about 5-7 days until the angry ‘monster’ eye appears and another 3 weeks for it to resolve. 

            The vaccine I had mentioned in a previous newsletter got much use so far this season and may see yet more. It is intended as prevention, as vaccines routinely are. However, it has also worked nicely as a control measure IF it is given no later than the early ‘sleepy and weepy’ stage. If the infection has continued to the gray haze or further, the vaccine has failed as a control measure this year, especially when the animals were weanlings in poor body condition, parasitized internally and on crummy pasture, or, as a stressed fresh heifer.  

            Of course fly control is critical. This topic is itself a multi-factor effort in itself. But for the weanlings out back, a hanging barrel with its own solar panel to trigger a spray of mist onto the animals face as it goes for salt, minerals or other ‘bait’ is especially useful for those face flies. The apparatus is called The Protector™ (call Arden Landis at 529-6644 for more information). As far as sprays go, either regular fly spray or Agri-Dynamics Ecto-Phyte essential oil mix (OK for organic) work well. 

            Once the infection gets intensified, you will need to cleanse the eye with eyewash a few times a day to keep the infection in check. This can be a non-alcohol based calendula tincture spray with Euphrasia 2X, Hypericum 30C and Aconite 30C. Or you can use LA-200 (oxytetracycline), but that has milk withholding in milking animals and a 28 day slaughter withhold for any animal. If the infection is at a crisis (‘monster eye’), having the vet inject the eye with a combination antibiotic-steroid-mydriatic can save the eye from rupturing. In any event, you must keep animals infected with pinkeye out of the sunlight – but remember to let them out at night to graze!

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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