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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care July 2009

Hi Folks,

Last month I advised to vaccinate for pink eye since the window of opportunity to do so would be ending by late June. Now I’ve been getting calls about animals that have developed pink eye – these herds haven’t yet vaccinated. Pinkeye season usually is between mid-July through mid-September in southeastern PA, but it can start earlier as it has this year. Fortunately the vaccine is quickly effective after it’s given. While vaccinating won’t help animals that are currently battling pinkeye, it could still help the rest of the animals in those herds where pinkeye is currently hitting – if you vaccinate without any further delay. I don’t know how to put it more simply than that. Pinkeye vaccine is available from any farm store that has refrigeration and it’s available from three different manufacturers. All brands that I know of instruct to use one shot under the skin. It really can’t be made any simpler. The rest is up to you. Yet people will probably still ask if I really think that vaccinating for pinkeye is a good thing to do. Here is the straight up answer: YES.

Treating pinkeye can be easy, if you are conventional and can use antibiotics freely. It generally cures with a single intramuscular shot of BioMycin or LA-200 brands of oxytetracycline (4.5cc / 100 lbs, with no more than 12cc at any one spot). Even if you do use an antibiotic, animals infected with pinkeye need to be kept out of direct sunlight as sun light will aggravate the condition. You can certainly let the animals out at night, however.

It is nearly impossible to predict whether a given year will be a bad pinkeye year. However, every year various herds will experience pinkeye problems. Sometimes a herd will have problems on a yearly basis. Those herds almost always start vaccinating and now repeat with a yearly booster.

Pinkeye is an infection of the outer layer of the eye. The infectious germ, Moraxella bovis, is carried from animal to animal mainly by flies. The infection sets up an intensely painful condition in the affected animal. Fortunately animals usually only have one affected eye, but some very unlucky animals will have both eyes affected and be blind for a few weeks. The first sign of infection is when an animal looks “weepy and sleepy” and has a watery discharge from the eye usually running down its jaw. Then they will squint their eye shut during the intense pain which lasts for many days. The eye then opens again but looks all white and aggravated, maybe ulcerating and possibly becoming permanently blind on that side.

Flies are attracted to moisture and will go to animals that look sweaty and glistening. Therefore try to reduce moisture in the animal’s environment or upon the animals themselves. (I have said this statement countless times over the years!) Use field lime or diatomaceous earth poured upon the animals’ backs via holes punched in an old cow aspirin container. Use liberally as needed.

Fly control should be a major goal of any livestock producer during the summer time. However, reliance by chemicals is a mistake since flies quickly procreate and resistance will undoubtedly develop. Fly control is not simple nor is there a single easy answer. Addressing many angles is the only rational method of successfully decreasing fly pressure on your animals. This means employing things such as sticky tape, pheromone fly traps, predator wasps that crawl around looking to eat maggots, adding soft rock phosphate to dry up gutter manure in tie stall barns, cleaning out box stall buildup (especially the near the corners), using a fly spray of your choice, having chickens pecking away the manure paddies after animals have been through a paddock and/or having hogs root through the paddies. When asked by newly transitioning farmers about what spray they can use now that they can’t use standard fly sprays, I have to break it to them that there isn’t an easy one step method. It is a multi-prong approach – and only then will a botanical fly spray do a nice job.

Another thing to remember is that animals that have to push their faces down through dry, mature growth to get to the lush growth underneath will likely poke their eyes upon the rank growth. This will then make them have watery eyes, which also can attract flies and the variety of germs they carry. So clipping pastures would be helpful to reduce rank growth and give uniform re-growth.

Often times it is the younger animals that get pinkeye – especially those that are born in late winter or early spring and are weaned by June or July and put outside on the same paddock that is used every year by that age class of animal. Parasites, in the form of blood sucking stomach worm larva, are waiting on the tips of grass blades, wanting to be ingested so they can reproduce inside the animal. This will draw down the immune system of the host animal and many bad things can then happen, pinkeye being just one of them.

Many say that kelp will prevent pinkeye - I’m not certain if kelp is the main item to prevent pinkeye but it sure should be part of any dairy farm animal ration. That’s a no-brainer. As a herdsman in the 1980’s we were already using Thorvin kelp at that time.

Treatment of pinkeye, if not using antibiotics, consists of either repeatedly cleansing the eye many times a day with an eyewash (I prefer a calendula spray) for a week or two. This is easier for milk cows that can be kept in as compared to free running yearlings. Yet this is very labor intensive, obviously. Keep animals inside during the day and let them out for night time grazing as sunlight aggravates pinkeye. Another method I use is to inject underneath the first layer of the eye with hyper immune plasma. This works best for young animals it seems, rather than adult cows. Maybe simply spraying the plasma upon the eye could work as well. Plasma therapy for ulcerated eyes in the equine world is an accepted treatment. Another method is a minor surgical procedure that essentially draws the third eyelid across the eyeball while sewing the lids closed over it. This promotes healing and keeps light out of the eye at the same time.

It should seem obvious that preventing pinkeye should be the goal. Vaccinating is simply the best way to individually protect animals while reducing fly pressures will also help to make your animals feel more comfortable generally. This is the last call to vaccinate for pinkeye this season. It’s up to you to get it done.

NOTICE: The Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) will have their big annual meeting at the farm of Roman and Lucy Stoltzfoos this year from 12 noon Thursday August 13th until 4:30pm Friday August 14th.  Come and interact with other organic producers. Talk about pay price and the changes that you have likely been experiencing. Find out the latest on the proposed pasture rule and how it will impact you and your friends. Fellowship with people who care about organic dairy farming – the soils, the crops, the animals, the hedgerows, the streams, the wildlife and all the rest of
farm life that organic farmers experience throughout the year. The last time Roman and Lucy hosted this event was nearly 10 years ago – come and see how their farm has grown, matured and changed over the years.
Best of all you get to pepper Roman with all the questions you want!

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

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