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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care February 2013

Hi Folks,

January was an interesting month weather-wise, with some wide swings in temperature as well as snow, rain, damp air and some foggy days. The resulting cases of pneumonia were not surprising. I treated cases of pneumonia this month in weaned animals, bred heifers, fresh heifers, cows and have been called from out of state for even more pneumonia cases. We’ve only finished January and more fluctuating weather will no doubt occur and negatively affect animals before good spring weather arrives. Let’s look at general prevention and then biological treatment options for cases of pneumonia.

First it needs to be stated that in the normal animal there are “good” and “bad” bacteria that line the respiratory tract, with the good ones keeping the bad ones in check when the animal is in good health. But when the animal’s immune system is stressed or depressed from being outside in 35-40 degree rain, damp/chilly air, calving time, internal parasites, stale air, damp bedding and/or recent shipping, the normal balance can be toppled. How? Viruses punch tiny holes in the respiratory tract lining, which then allow the bad bacteria to gain an advantage, resulting in coughing animals – and potentially in pneumonia. I say “potentially” because if environmental causes like stale air, drafty air and/or damp bedding can be corrected, then coughing does not necessarily proceed to pneumonia. Importantly, if you can get animals that have recently started coughing outside into fresh air - if the weather is pleasant – it can stop the downward process. This is why it’s important to NOT keep animals indoors all winter long. If it’s a sunny, pleasant day, it’s not icy and there’s not a lot of mud, by all means put animals outside to get fresh air and some exercise. And I don’t mean for only an hour. Put them out for the whole morning or afternoon, whenever possible – it will enhance their health. As most people know, it’s very uncommon for calves in hutches to get respiratory problems – they can go in and out from their hutch whenever they please.

Let’s consider the role of the immune system. In the course of respiratory disease, if the animal is immuno-competent yet never has been previously challenged by the bad bugs, it takes about 10 days for the animal’s own antibodies to rally and start fighting off the bad bacteria to restore equilibrium. In the first few days, during initial activation of the immune system, the animal’s interferon levels increase. Immune system cells, having a kind of “radar”, are drawn to the sites of infection. These cells (macrophages and neutrophils) kill anything that shouldn’t be there. During battle, these cells are sending signals via lymphatic drainage to nearby lymph nodes. When the macrophages and neutrophils have become exhausted from the battle, you will start to see yellowish snot – that’s their remains along with dead bacteria. Other cells (lymphocytes) have been signaled and quickly mature in the nearby lymph nodes and these cells create antibodies. It takes anywhere from 5 to 10 days for lymphocytes to make antibodies. Once formed, antibodies are very efficient in killing specific bacteria – antibodies seek them out, lock onto them and destroy them quickly in expert fashion.

Wouldn’t it be even better to have highly efficient antibodies already waiting to go at the first hint of challenge? After all, in pneumonia every day that the damage goes on from the bad bacteria means there’s much less chance for recovery – leading to permanent lung damage or death. The best way to have functional antibodies already present and functional is by vaccination (induced prior exposure). If vaccinating for only one common infectious disease on a farm, pneumonia would be it. The intranasal vaccine (Inforce 3®) acts rapidly after squirting 1cc into each nostril and it provides quick protection by stimulating interferon production along the respiratory lining. If you’re paranoid about vaccinating, the intranasal vaccine cannot reproduce itself in the body. The intra-nasal vaccine is also the only vaccine which can be given in the face of an outbreak. Never give injectable vaccines to animals showing symptoms or with fever.

The building blocks of the immune system are energy, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and proteins. Therefore proper nutrition is critical. In the winter time, however, the vitamin content of stored feed is reduced compared to fresh green pasture. While healthy cows do make their own vitamins in the rumen, young stock whose rumen function is just starting may not achieve appropriate levels. Any ketotic (low energy) animal will also not have an intact immune system. Basically any animal backing off of feed won’t be making enough vitamins. Therefore supplementing vitamins like A, D and E would help boost the immune system. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the cells of the immune system function better. A dose of MuSe® at 1cc/200lbs will boost the immune system. Being fat soluble, one shot will last for a few weeks. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant and a dose of 5cc/100 lbs is good, but don’t inject more than 30cc into one site as larger doses tend to give abscesses (counter-productive!). Vitamin C is quickly excreted in the urine, so it should be injected daily for 3 days in a row.

Finally, the best actual medicine for pneumonia (short of antibiotics) to help kill the bad bugs is that which directly speeds up immune capabilities. To immediately elevate interferon levels in any animal, use Immunoboost®, 1cc/200lbs under the skin (1cc minimum). The effect lasts 10-14 days. To immediately elevate antibodies, use pre-made antibodies found in products like PolySerum® and Bovi-Sera®. They have antibodies for injection against bacteria that cause pneumonia, as well as antibodies against bacteria which cause E. coli and salmonella. Follow label directions.

It is critical to know how the lungs sound to decide which treatment route to go. If the lungs sound raspy and rough, then natural treatment can be very effective. If “wet” abscess sounds are heard, antibiotics are needed. And if consolidated lungs are heard, it’s too late for anything. Even if reaching for an antibiotic, remember that antibiotics need a functioning immune system to do their job. They work by giving the immune system time to rally instead of becoming overwhelmed and beaten, which certainly can happen in pneumonia. Therefore, keep in mind injectible antioxidants like vitamin C & E.

A key point is that natural treatment of pneumonia tends to take a little longer for the animals to normalize - about 4-5 days instead of the 1-2 days with antibiotics. But then they’ve done it essentially on their own and they should be stronger in the long run. My rule of thumb is to stick with the biological approach if the animal is holding its own and going the right way - but switch to antibiotics if the animal is worsening.  However, if treatment is started soon enough I have seen countless cases of pneumonia cleared up by using purely biological treatments to work with the animal’s own immune system.

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

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